Bohemians captain Derek Pender has announced his retirement from football after 17 seasons in the League of Ireland.
The 35-year-old defender played over 200 times for Bohs. He was made club captain by manager Keith Long in 2015 and helped the team qualify for the Europa League this season.
Pender began his career with Shelbourne before going on to play with Dublin City, Shamrock Rovers, Bray Wanderers and St Patrick’s Athletic before joining Bohs in 2012.
On Thursday afternoon, Pender released a statement about his decision to retire, reflecting on his career with Bohs and in Irish football.
“After 17 years of playing in our great league, the time has come for me to announce my retirement. I never thought this day would come, it still doesn’t feel real.
“I was always a massive fan of our league. I used to bunk into Dalymount, Tolka and watch in awe of the greats like Owen Heary, Kevin Hunt, Stuart Byrne, Jason Byrne, Jim Crawford and Glen Crowe.
“Not many people have the opportunity to spend 17 years doing what they truly love to do. I have been fortunate to be able to do so yet here I am announcing my retirement as Bohs captain.
“I can’t say I will look back at my career without any regrets. Football gives you the highest of highs but also the lowest of lows. That’s why we love it.
“Tomorrow will be the last time I lead our team out in Dalymount. I’m actually dreading it because I’m going to miss it so much. Friday nights in Dalymount are so special to me. Our fans are the best in the world.
“I will never forget the semi-finals we had this year and last season. Those games will burn at me forever but I will always remember Turner’s Cross and the Jodi after both those games and the love we got from our fans. You don’t get that at any other club. I thank every one of you. It has been an honour.
“I particularly want to thank Keith. He made me captain when he arrived and gave me the best playing years of my career. I will be forever grateful to you. To all the staff – Trevor, Benno, Remy, Cathal, Robbie, Paul, Colly and Aaron – thank you.
“To the volunteers and staff at Bohemians – Daniel, Stephen, Chris, Lynn, Paul, Luke, Matt – and all the members, volunteers who I’ve got to know over the years, you are what make this club special. Thank you.
“To all my team-mates, I’m going to miss being the grumpy old man! Thank you for an amazing season. Against all the odds, we have qualified for Europe. Stay together. There is no better place to be than this great club.
“To my wife Jennifer, from U14s to now, thanks for never coming to watch me play! I love you. Thank you. She wore.”
Bohs manager Keith Long paid tribute to Pender and said that he will remain at the club next season in a role that has yet to be determined.
“Sadly tomorrow is the last time we get to see Derek in action as he will hang up his boots after 17 seasons as a League of Ireland player, eight of which he spent here in Dalymount.
“When I was appointed manager, I named Derek captain of the club and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. If you are looking for a reason why this club is what it is today, then look no further than Derek.
“He is respected in every dressing room up and down the country and he has driven ours. The players adore him, respect him and would do anything for him. He is a real leader who goes about his business without any fanfare. His story, I believe, is a true inspiration for us all.
“Derek will remain at the club next year in a capacity yet to be determined but as far as I am concerned, he will have a huge role to play in our identity and how the club moves forward.
“Any Bohs player can look to Derek as inspiration and what you can achieve through honesty of effort and dedicating yourself to the game.”
In their own statement, Bohs said:
“We could not have asked for a better leader or warrior on the pitch than Derek, a man who has from day one bought into and reflected the values and aspirations of the club, its supporters and those of the backroom team.”
Pender will play his final game on Friday night when the Gypsies host Sligo Rovers at Dalymount Park.