Ian Madigan adds weight to decision to pick rugby

“Ah, I would have loved to (play for Dublin). Even a chance to train with them, maybe in the off season, just to get a feel for it.”

Leinster’s Ian Madigan and Dave Kearney. “I definitely view it as a positive that I can play at centre and at fullback. I’ll do my best wherever I’m put,” says Madigan.

Leinster’s Ian Madigan and Dave Kearney. “I definitely view it as a positive that I can play at centre and at fullback. I’ll do my best wherever I’m put,” says Madigan.

 


Imagine a svelte Ian Madigan hovering up breaks and distributing pinpoint foot passes into Dublin’s inside line.

Madigan attempted, like so many these days, to balance rugby and football as a teenager. Only problem was the latter sucked the weight off him and as a 15-year-old playing senior cup rugby for Blackrock College he needed every ounce.

So Kilmacud Crokes was hesitantly shelved not long after he was part of the 2003 Féile (under-14 All-Ireland) winning team.

“Rory O’Carroll was on the team, Cian O’Sullivan was the year ahead of me in Blackrock and I would have played against Johnny Cooper, ” said Madigan yesterday.

“Mark Coughlan was another on that Féile team who made the Dublin panel last year. I have followed them very closely since then. I would have loved to keep playing. At least have a crack at minor.”

The crossover in between rugby players like Madigan or soccer players, like Mark Vaughan and Paul Mannion, and Gaelic games has become a common occurrence these past 10 years.

South Dublin is undoubtedly a battleground for multi-talented sporting teenagers nowadays. So much so that Jim Gavin added the “hearts and minds” mantra to his repertoire after Dublin captured Sam Maguire.

As O’Sullivan noted recently in an The Irish Times interview the lure of his first love eventually saw off rugby and hurling.

The same happened to Madigan (it went the other way for former Cork hurler Darren Sweetnam).

Losing weight
“When I was playing senior cup in fourth year I had to make a decision because I was training too much and losing weight.

“As a spectacle, going to Gaelic or hurling, I absolutely love it. But you have to go. It’s completely different watching on TV.”

From a perch in the lower Hogan for Dublin versus Kerry, he was drawn to Cooper’s tussle with Darran O’Sullivan but it’s the bearded one who has always commanded his admiration.

“I love watching Paul Galvin. Not just his footballing ability but the positions he picks up, how he controls things.”

What about yourself, could you have played football at that level?

“Ah, I would have loved to. Even a chance to train with them, maybe in the off season, just to get a feel for it, just for the experience.

“But they would run rings around me now.”

Can any skills be transferred to rugby?

“The footballing aspect of it, like spatial awareness is massive, how long you have on the ball.

“You see a guy running into a dead end, it’s generally the same guys you see doing it, and the same with rugby, you see a guy doing the same when he should give a pass because he doesn’t have the confidence.”

Confidence is not something Madigan lacks. It can’t be called arrogance if he continues to back it up. Last weekend, in his first game of the campaign at outhalf, against the Cardiff Blues at the RDS he smashed the tea cup.

Proverbial storm
The proverbial storm being how Leinster’s new Kiwi outhalf Jimmy Gopperth might see Madigan forced to fullback or inside centre yet again.

Six kicks, six goals and a stunning late try buried that notion. Unless Leinster coach Matt O’Connor sees it differently for Saturday’s trip to Thomond Park.

Gordon D’Arcy will have something to say about this yet, but Joe Schmidt has already paired off Jonathan Sexton and Madigan, to use New Zealand parlance, as first and second five-eights.

“Ten is my favourite position but you don’t get to write your own name on the team-sheet. I definitely view it as a positive that I can play at centre and at fullback. I’ll do my best wherever I’m put.”

A sustained international innings at number 12 only came into consideration by default. In the malaise of Rome last March, as Luke Fitzgerald was followed off the field by Luke Marshall, he impressed at inside centre.

“Yeah, thrown in a small bit at the deep end there but Joe worked quite closely with me after that and would have seen it as an option to play me and Johnny together. When Darce got injured for the league semi he decided to go with me.

“Better than sitting on the bench,” is the simple reasoning. “I’m paid to play rugby.

“My attitude last year was to do my best to get in anywhere in that backline. Joe gave me plenty of opportunities for which I’m very grateful.”

Served his time
Point is Madigan has served his time on the lower deck. He’s officer material now. Sexton spent a similar few seasons in purgatory behind Felipe Contepomi. The versatile tag probably goes back to Darragh Fitzpatrick, a fine schools then AIL outhalf and current house-mate of Madigan, forcing him into the back field.

“In schools you get your best players on the pitch.”

The wonder is whether he would have burst through sooner if, like Paddy Jackson in Ulster, the road was cleared for him.

“It’s an interesting question. Maybe if the way was clear at 20, 21 I could have had a go and it might not have worked out and I would be by the wayside now. At the same time, I could have got the go at 21 and things could have clicked for me and I would have been forced to learn quicker and I could be further down the road.

“But things have worked out the way they are and I am kind of happy the way they are.”

Ian Madigan was speaking at the launch of the limited edition 12 pack of Golden Irish free range eggs, available from all leading retailers nationwide. Log onto Goldenirish.com for more information.