Ian Madigan puts himself back in the shop window

Bordeaux outhalf may be enjoying his new life in France but he still harbours Irish ambitions

Remember Ian Madigan? How quickly we discard them. His move to France, accidentally, worked out nicely for Irish rugby. None of the decision makers at Leinster knew just how good Joey Carbery was - leaping from fourth choice outhalf in preseason - after tearing up the AIL for Clontarf last season.

Madigan saw it, even helping Carbery to eradicate his most obvious flaw.

“I know Joey well. He is a class act. I worked with him a lot last season. He used to go kicking with me on our day off.

“I thought if he got a big pre-season under his belt he could really show what he is about in the Pro12 this year. I have no doubt that he will kick on to greater honours in the near future.”

Those same honours are ones Madigan has not given up on despite relocating to an apartment in the shadow of Bordeaux's Ponte de Pierre. For now Paddy Jackson, his opposite number tomorrow at Stade Chaban-Delmas, and Carbery are the national and provincial understudies to Johnny Sexton.

Still, Madigan wants to play for Ireland this season.

“Joe (Schmidt) has been clear with me. Even before I signed for Bordeaux-Begles he said it would affect selection but wouldn’t rule me out. It is understandable because they can’t control my minutes.

“At the same time they have another person who is playing week in, week out at a good level.”

Not that Schmidt turned his back on him.

“Joe has kept in contact, let me know what has gone on in those mini-camps, what they are looking for from their outhalves. I know I am up against it when it comes to selection but if I keep my head down over here, do the best I can do, that’s all I can control.”

This 27-year-old’s rugby life is surrounded by consistently impressive place-kicking statistics, all the while punctuated by doubt, worry even, which belies his naturally confident disposition.

After missing a match winning penalty, aged just 17, in front of the posts for Blackrock College against Kilkenny College in 2007: “It did cross my mind that maybe rugby wasn’t for me.”

After Bryan Habana’s intercept try: “You’re questioning yourself - am I good enough to play professionally at the top level?”

So, how did Madigan become a place-kicking number 10 in the Top 14 with an 81.5 per cent success rate?

Snapshot: 7.30am, not yet a teenager, he gets into his father’s car.

Same journey every day, ending on rolling acres of grass, all to himself for an hour or so.

Boots, bag of balls, kicking tee.

“I remember going in every morning to school and practising my goal kicking. That was from twelve years of age. My dad used to drive into work early so I had the option of going in with him or getting the bus and having to walk down Booterstown Avenue. I always went in with him.”

Snapshot: Monday, February 27th, 2007 - Leinster schools cup quarter-final replay, full-time: Kilkenny College 14 Blackrock College 13.

Next morning Madigan's grandfather, Larry Brassill, opened The Irish Times report: "Kilkenny were priced at 80 to 1 to win this competition at the outset, Blackrock 7 to 4 . . . The story must begin in the 13th minute of injury-time . . . when Blackrock were handed the most fortunate get-out clause.

"They had been bombarding an immensely solid defensive line all afternoon, but when flanker Ross Ronayne was hauled down just inside the 22, referee John Carvill showed no hesitation in penalising Kilkenny players for not staying on their feet. It took three utterly distraught Kilkenny forwards several seconds to shift their exhausted bodies off the turf and track back 10 yards. Ian Madigan had a penalty, 20 yards out, in front of the uprights. The Blackrock fullback pulled it left. Carvill ended the contest. Kilkenny fullback Nevil Copeland, one of several leaders in this team, was the first of an astonished group of players to raise his arms in victory. The Rock team collapsed to the floor in disbelief. Madigan is a quality footballer, an SCT player for three years, and to lay blame solely at his doorstep would be wrong. Blackrock collectively lost this replay..."

Larry (“He’s always been my biggest fan.”) penned an eloquent letter to the reporter explaining how Ian’s family believe he has a bright future in the game. A few weeks later Madigan got selected for the Irish school’s side, quietening the voice in his head.

"I was always very ambitious with sport growing up. I remember being 10 years old going to Gaelic football [for Kilmacud Crokes alongside Rory O'Carroll] and being so nervous about playing well. That was just something that was in me from a young age. I just had high expectations for myself, even if it was just a Mickey Mouse Gaelic football match that no one was watching. My dad would be there and he would be talking to me after and I would be stressing myself out about how that would go.

“That really got applied to rugby when I went to Blackrock. You are playing every day and that’s all people are really talking about when you are 12 or 13 years old. Really from that age I did say to myself: ‘I am going to give this every bit of energy I have to make it as a professional’. That is the truth. I did have the goal of making it as a professional. Even when I was 12.”

Self doubt motivated and hindered him at the same time.

"I have had lots of setbacks along the way. There were some great high points in school like winning the Junior Cup and then I was a 15-year-old playing in the Senior Cup final but to get blocked down and give away a try off the back of it, was a big setback at that age."

In fifth year his appendix burst.

“So for sixth year I gave it absolutely everything I had. I probably put too much pressure on myself and didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have. It was disappointing to miss that kick against Kilkenny.

It did cross my mind that maybe rugby wasn’t for me. But I had great people around me like my dad and brother. They just picked me back up.”

Snapshot: April 19th, 2015, Marseilles - Toulon 25 Leinster 20. Ten minutes into extra-time and Toulon lead 18-15. Leinster have clean ball and a four on three overlap bang on half way. Madigan flings a floating skip pass that the Springbok winger reads. Habana gathers and disappears.

“That was the toughest setback I have had. That hurt. It was off the back of a very good year that I really enjoyed. I felt I clicked with what Matt O’Connor wanted from me. I felt my opinion was really valued in the team and I was enjoying playing in the centre.

“It wasn’t like we could bounce back the following week. The season was really over, we were scrapping to finish fourth place in the league.

“It wasn’t like I was 21 and I could just dust it off. That I would be alright. You’re questioning yourself - am I good enough to play professionally at the top level?”

Ireland, again, came to the rescue.

“I was lucky that I had the World Cup to focus on. I didn’t have too much time to think about it, which was good.”

Enda McNulty’s presence also helped.

“I still talk to Enda on the phone. When I was in Leinster I would go to him every two or three weeks. Those meetings could range from 15 minutes to two hours sometimes if he feels you need the time.

“I met with him two or three times after the Toulon game. Reset the barometer. Reset new goals. He just convinced me that nothing was broken. That I’m still a good player. Still a good professional. Just really set me small goals to shoot at. Get me back into a routine.”

Ireland’s high water mark at the World Cup - mere seconds before the plug was yanked - came on the pitch after beating France.

“It ended in massive disappointment but I took a lot of confidence from the French game because it told me I could perform at that level.”

On seeing his family in the crowd he burst into tears. Television cameras captured the raw emotion.

“Ah, for me it was just a culmination of things. Before the World Cup there were a lot written about how Ireland would be in big trouble if Johnny got injured, that myself and Paddy wouldn’t be able to step up.

“It was also off the back of the Toulon disappointment. I had kept a lot of things pent up from that.

“I got my parents to bring a big flag so I would be able to spot them afterwards. I copped a fair bit of slagging but that’s me. I have no regrets over that.”

Sexton came home from Racing 92 and Madigan returned to the bench.

Those two years worked out grand for Jimmy Gopperth, not the Irish outhalves. The IRFU nudged him towards a rudderless Munster. Some interesting offers came from England but a Bordeaux campsite provided the best memories from his childhood.

“Same campsite for about 10 years, same group of about 10 families every summer. We used to play tip rugby or soccer every night. Great memories. You have no worries on those campsites, waking up, on your bike to the swimming pool or the beach.”

Nowadays Maria and Michael Madigan have an apartment in nearby Royan.

“It’s not a massive business of anything like that but Mum has been bringing Irish people over to Bordeaux for the last seven or eight years. She’s fluent in French and loves all things wine, and bringing people to see the chateaus.

“I’m not fluent. Far from it but I am able to speak with the team in French, I am able to direct them around. They appreciated that when I arrived.”

Laurent Marti, Bordeaux-Begles president, initiated the recruitment process. A conversation with head coach Raphaël Ibañez closed the deal without much fuss. Former Italy coach Jacques Brunel coaches the forwards, Joe Worsley oversees defence while Emile Ntamack runs the backs with Adam Ashley-Cooper having a huge say.

“Rafa is more like a director of rugby but he also coaches.”

All Madigan has to do is keep 20 cap French veteran Lionel Beauxis at bay.

“I’ve been lucky; I’ve started all the home games bar the last one because I was sick. We really targeted the Pau away game, which I started.

“The season is so long here and we don’t have a massive squad so we can’t target a win every week like Leinster, Ulster or Munster would in the Pro 12. You’ve got to pick and choose the games you go after hard or your best side just gets burnt out.

“There is huge pride when you are playing at home here in front of 25,000 supporters. Regardless of what our ambitions might be in this competition we will be going full strength against Ulster this weekend.”

The Leinster door may be closed after his two-year contract ends but a return to Ireland or a new deal in France will be decided relatively quickly.

“What’s happening more in France is they are negotiating with you before enter the final year of your contract. Especially for specialist positions like tightheads or halfbacks.

"I'll have a fair idea post Six Nations how I am feeling here and how the team is going and how I am going personally. Also, what the club's intentions are for me, whether they want to keep me on or if there is an opportunity to come back to Ireland.

“It is something that I will weigh up.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss home. The fun you have in the dressing room you can’t replicate because they are guys you are friends with since you were 16 or 17.”

Madigan dispels the myth about players being flogged in France.

“It’s not as bad as people make it out to be. There is no doubt that it is a tough league but they do manage the squad. Bit less of a focus on strength work over here and more on skills and aerobic work.

“It is very different. Not as structured as I had it with Leinster - the coaches telling you to play more heads up as opposed to back home with coaches telling you to stay in the system. That’s been refreshing but it is something that I have had to adjust to.

“I haven’t been playing my best stuff but I am playing well.”

Ideally Ibanez would prefer you do not to get picked for Ireland?

“They want to have international standard players but they don’t want them missing eight ten weeks of the season.

“But I know I have to be playing well to get selected for Ireland.

“There is no getting away from it - this is an important game for me, directly in the shop window because I am playing against an Irish side.”

A new type of snapshot needed.