Chris Henry: Ex-Ireland and Ulster forward adjusts to retirement

Ulster flanker Chris Henry
Chris Henry is celebrating his testimonial year with Ulster

It was a decision that was months in the making but when retirement finally caught up on Chris Henry it hit him like an angry prop clearing out a ruck.

The former Ulster and Ireland flanker hung up his boots when he realised his body could no longer physically cope.

A torn rotator cuff finally ended the career of a player who recovered from a stroke to play at the Rugby World Cup.

But the finality of his decision dawned on him in the most unusual of places - his local supermarket's bread section.

"When it came out and we actually decided it was happening, it did hit me like a ton of bricks," Henry told BBC Sport NI's 'The Rugby Social'.

"I was walking through Tesco about 48 hours after the announcement and I was looking for garlic bread - I was making spag bol - and I literally stared at the bread section.

"So if anyone was watching me stare at the bread for 10 minutes, that was just me going: 'Oh my word this has actually happened'."

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The Rugby Social - All Blacks and retirement

A career bookended by Malone RFC

The open-side flanker played 184 times for Ulster after his debut against Harlequins in January 2009 and won the first of 24 Ireland caps the following year against Australia.

The 34-year-old suffered a mini-stroke on the morning of Ireland's autumn international against South Africa in 2014 and later underwent surgery to repair a small hole in his heart before making a full recovery to compete at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Having completed a full pre-season with Ulster this summer, Henry's final appearance for the province was against Scarlets on the opening day of the Pro14 season, a calf strain subsequently triggering a run of injuries that would force him to retire.

"I came back but had no access to rugby so I decided to play for Malone, who I coach as well, played for 80 minutes and was happy with my game," he added.

"That night I went to bed at 10 o'clock and woke up at midnight and couldn't sleep the rest of the night, couldn't lift my arm it was so sore - rotator cuff tear.

"At that stage the doctor at Ulster was recommending surgery and I was thinking 'this is crazy'.

"I tried every access route to get the games - and every Ulster cap I loved and I know how precious they are - but I just felt I couldn't train the way I needed to for the team and didn't want to do myself an injustice.

"I think Ulster are in a really good place and the talent is coming through and I just decided that, after chatting with my agent, family and [operations director] Bryn Cunningham, we decided there is no right way to finish up."

'Rugby is part of my DNA'

Two days later, Henry found himself surrounded by baked goods and lost in thought as the reality of retirement began to dawn on him.

The strength of the Ulster squad convinced him it was time to leave but it was hard for him to tear himself away from the sport that first took hold of him as a five-year-old playing for the Malone minis and has shaped him - both physically and mentally - for most of his adult life.

Rory Best, Iain Henderson and Chris Henry
Rory Best, Iain Henderson and Henry celebrate Ireland's 2014 Six Nations win

"If you include academy, whenever you leave school, I have been involved with the Ulster system for the guts of 15 years. It's a huge part of my DNA," added Henry.

"The really lovely thing is the amount of past players who have contacted me in the last two weeks, whether by text message or phone call.

"The past players - every one has been through this - basically said 'fair play for doing it this way' and then secondly said 'just so you know, there are going to be good days and bad days'.

"I still have no regrets whatsoever, but I'm sure there are going to be good days and bad days but the most important thing is I'm just excited to see what is next."

Chris Henry was speaking to BBC Sport NI's Gavin Andrews on The Rugby Social

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