Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ian Madigan & The Catch 22

Ian Madigan

logo post blueThe date was September 11, 2010.  Leinster defeated the Cardiff Blues 34-23 at the RDS Arena.  Isa Nacewa was on exhilarating form that day and took home the Man of the Match award, but also catching the eye was a young outhalf named Ian Madigan.

From my seat in the Grandstand I had a perfect view of his first try in senior rugby and as you can see from the video, it was quite an impressive one.  You had to admire the way the youngster backed himself to throw such a step at that stage of the game, when the visitors had fought back from an early deficit to get within touching distance and we had gone a long period without looking like troubling the scorers again.

 

But this was only the second match in the reign of a certain Mr Joe Schmidt at Leinster.  The bonus point win was of course welcome to the RDS faithful, but we were still a bit concerned about how the lads were adapting to a new style of offloading, and when we went on to lose the next two on the bounce to make it just one win from our opening four, that concern naturally grew.

As we all know now, the Schmidt era really took off in earnest when BOD touched down in the closing stages against Munster at the Aviva - but then Isa was our starting number 10 with Johnny Sexton returning from injury on the bench.

By the end of the season however, Madigan had kept in touch with the Leinster matchday squad, and on that monumental day in Cardiff, he wore the number 22 jersey as Sexton led our almighty second half charge to victory over the Northampton Saints.

12 months later, the venue and the opposition were different but it was still Leinster triumphant in the final of Europe’s biggest competition, and once more Madigan wore the number 22.

2013 we did the seemingly unthinkable, failing to get out of our European pool.  But we did get a reprieve of sorts in dropping down into what was then called the Amlin Cup, and at the quarterfinal stage Madigan got to wear his favoured 10 jumper as Leinster blew away Wasps away from home to reach the semifinals.

However, when it came to the final, which was actually in the RDS, while he avoided the number 22 this time around, he had to make do with 12 as Sexton was back to play outhalf, and it was the same a week later back at the same venue as we defeated the Ulstermen to finish off a unique treble of trophies.

That success signalled the end for both Schmidt and (for a couple of years anyway) Sexton at Leinster.  It seemed the time was right for Madigan to step up and lead the line for us as it always appeared he would.

Skip ahead to the last day of May 2014.  Leinster retain their Pro12 crown, but what jersey is Madigan wearing?  22. 

And with Schmidt now heading the Irish coaching set up, despite Ian’s failure to nail down a regular starting role at Leinster as outhalf, he features heavily in Ireland’s matchday squads throughout the victorious 2014 & 2015 Six Nations campaigns.  What jersey number is he wearing against France and Scotland respectively in those decisive final matches?  Do I need to give the answer?

Finally, we have the most ironic fact of this whole bit I’m doing here.  In Ireland’s final test match before his new contract is up for negotiation, Madigan actually gets to wear that 10 jumper for his country, although the circumstances are far, far from ideal. 

Nobody, and I mean nobody, has ever considered pinning what happened against Argentina on him, but the reason I bring it up is that it signifies what incredible bad luck he has had over the years in the high-profile matches for both province and country.

There isn’t a single serious Leinster supporter who isn’t fully aware of the tremendous skill set at Madigan’s disposal...the consistent place kicking, the tough tackling, the speeding bullet of a miss pass, and we have all seen him display these in spades on numerous occasions.

If we must apportion “blame” for his decision to leave these shores, I don’t believe we can dump it all in one place, but you certainly can’t put any before the man himself. 

It’s not his fault he arrived at senior level just when Johnny Sexton was reaching the peak of his powers.  It’s not his fault he got injured at unfortunate times.  It’s not his fault Joe Schmidt’s long-term plans with Leinster were curtailed, and that his successor was of a mind to give priority to a different style of out half. 

And it is certainly not his fault that the ridiculous nature of the European rugby calendar is such that contract negotiations have to take place slap bang in the middle of the season meaning dozens of players across the continent have to see out a campaign with everyone knowing their future lies elsewhere.

But one thing is an absolute certainty.  Ian “Mad-Dog” Madigan is a Leinster man through and through, and will always be considered as such.  I don’t say that because he is a fellow “Rock boy” either.  The province has worked hard over the years to grow its image as a “12 County Army”, and with stars like Darce, Shaggy, the Kearneys and Sean O’Brien we have seen that quality players can be drawn from all over. 

What that proves most of all is that it’s your talent and attitude that make you a Leinster player, not where you come from nor where you went to school.  And you haven’t heard Ian Madigan complain about his lot at the province over the years despite the misfortune.  When he’s been injured, he has worked hard to come back.  When asked to play 12, he gave everything.  When asked to play 15, he gave everything.  And even on all those massive occasions when asked to wear 22, he most certainly gave everything.

He has earned the right to go where he feels his rugby career will progress the most.  If he feels Bordeaux is that place,  he certainly won’t get anything from me but my full support.  They seem to be an ambitious club in what is already a remarkably competitive league. 

All we can hope for is that he gets the opportunity to take full advantage of his new surroundings, and if he is putting in the quality displays, that he gets the proper recognition when Ireland squads are named. 

Posts similar to this one could have been written about JJ Hanrahan this time last year.  They could soon be written about Simon Zebo or Robbie Henshaw.  We all want our local heroes to play for our local teams, but we also must retain an acceptance of the realities of the modern professional game.

For now, I just have to say best wishes to Ian for the future; it must be a relief that it is all sorted and out in the open.  What say the boys in blue give him the perfect send off in May. JLP

#ThanksMads  #COYBIB

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