Ulster and Ireland centre Darren Cave has announced his retirement from professional rugby at the end of the season. 

Cave, who turns 32 this week, made the announcement just days after featuring prominently in Ulster's rousing display against Leinster in the Aviva Stadium, which ended in an agonisingly narrow defeat to the reigning champions. 

The Holywood-born player made his debut for Ulster in 2007 and has remained with the province ever since, helping them reach the Heineken Cup final in 2012 and the Pro12 final in 2013, both of which were lost to Leinster. 

At international level, the outside centre was a member of the Ireland U20 side that won the Grand Slam in 2007 and he subsequently earned 11 caps at senior level. 

He was a member of the Ireland squad for the 2015 World Cup, making his last appearance in the green shirt against Romania in Wembley in the pool stage. 

"Many people have contributed massively to help me along this journey, far too many to name. Thank you to my friends, coaches, medical staff, S&C staff and all the other staff and management at Ulster Rugby behind the scenes that gave me the opportunity to be the best player, and person, that I could be.

"I’ve no idea how many team-mates I’ve had over the years but thank you to all of them, it’s been an absolute pleasure. I have made some friends for life.

Cave in action against Romania in the 2015 Rugby World Cup

"This is a really exciting group to be a part of and I’m determined to give everything so that we can finish the season on a high. Beyond that, I can’t wait to put my feet up and watch Ulster Rugby win trophies over the coming years.

"Whilst I’m proud of my achievements, more than anything else I’m grateful that my family sacrificed so much to let me pursue this crazy dream that I could play rugby for Ulster and Ireland. I really don’t know how I’m supposed to put my gratitude into words for how much my dad Brian and my mum Ruth have done for me over the years.

"Not to mention my older brother Stuart, who taught me how to go ‘toe to toe’ wrestling in the back garden from a young age. Who’d have thought it would have been such a valuable lesson.

"I genuinely believe Ulster fans are the greatest fans in the world, and not just because I was brought up as one. Over the last 13 years the lows have been low, but the highs have been higher, and most importantly, the terraces have always been full, the voices have been loud and you’ve always been there for me and the team.

"Thank you so much.

"SUFTUM."

Team captain Rory Best paid tribute to Cave and said they hoped to finish the season on a high.

"Cavey and I have played together for over a decade, so he is a player and person who I know very well and have great respect for.

"His career will be remembered for the big performances he produced when we needed them most, and also for the passion and commitment he demonstrated in the process. It’s no surprise that he’s a popular member of the squad and a favourite among the Ulster supporters...

"We have a hugely important end to the season upon us and we are all determined to make Darren’s remaining time at Ulster as successful as possible."