Tuesday 19 September 2017

Backing himself every time

Fergus McFadden refuses to get bogged down by the factors he cannot change, writes Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

It's Wednesday morning between international Tests and Fergus McFadden is having a day off. For him that means that there is no scheduled training just a bit of kicking practice at the Aviva.

Having started back-to-back games now, and shown good form, it will mark some turnaround if he gets selected for a third game running this week for the All Blacks. After all, McFadden's international appearances under Declan Kidney were sporadic so having his former Leinster boss at the helm with Ireland is a welcome change.

"When a new boss comes in there are going to be differences," says McFadden. "I think there is a real freshness. Declan was there for five years and he was the first coach in 60 years to win a Grand Slam, he was very successful. But I think it was time for someone new regardless of who was there. It was time for it to be re-energised and I don't think they could have appointed someone better than Joe."

Highs and lows come hand in hand with being a professional athlete and over time the Kildare man has learned to deal with that.

"Different coaches rate different players," explains McFadden. "As an athlete you always back yourself, in my head I would have thought I was the best man for the job. Maybe at that time I might not have been playing my best but I feel at the moment, over the last year or so I've been improving and I've put myself in the frame a lot more.

"You have to try to find a happy medium so you are in a level place mentally. So you don't get too excited when things go great and then you don't get down when things aren't going the best. Over my career there have been times when I haven't been picked when I really felt like I should have been. I know it's a cliché but I genuinely feel it makes you stronger and better character.

"You bounce back and thankfully I've learned from those blips and managed to get over them. It's experience and you learn to deal with things like not being picked or getting a bad injury and you become a bit colder about the whole thing. You can react in a more positive way."

It's obvious that McFadden is a determined guy; he never rested on his laurels, always working hard and impressing when the opportunity arose.

Last summer he had to deal with further disappointment when Simon Zebo was selected for the Lions despite McFadden having shown better form. "Simon had a really good season last year for Munster and he had a few good performances for Ireland. The Lions coaching staff picked their team on the merit of what was there and that is fair enough. But I would be lying if I said I wasn't a small bit disappointed.

"Some people might think I wasn't within an ass's roar of the Lions but because I am ambitious and I'm very confident in my ability I'd have thought that I'd be capable there. It was disappointing seeing some of the lads over there. But it was great to see them be successful. I was delighted for the lads Brian O'Driscoll, Jonathan Sexton and Seán O'Brien."

With Schmidt in charge, McFadden's international career is very much back on track, even if yesterday was a bad day at the office for him, and for the rest of the team. He is still determined to hold on to his starting berth so this week will be important in training. Like so many others, he has unfinished business against the All Blacks, even if no-one is giving Ireland a fighting chance, especially after yesterday's crash. The last time he played against the All-Blacks Ireland suffered a 60-0 defeat in Hamilton; it was a tough outing.

"It's not nice obviously, we don't do all the training and go through all the hard days together to go out and lose like that. It will be in the back of our minds going into the game. There was mental and physical fatigue but there is no excuse losing like that in an Irish jersey. It's a day you want to forget but obviously it's a day that you want to make sure won't happen again."

It's a huge game and of course he will be nervous but he'll be excited too. "If you want to beat them you have to have your best day and they probably have to have a bit of an off day. They are so clinical, give them any opportunity and they will take them. At the end of the day they are human and they are beatable and I think after the last time out we are looking to prove a point and certainly looking forward to it."

Even though there is a new manager and plenty of players will be out to impress him in the big games, McFadden doesn't look to others to spur him on. He has an inner drive that makes him get out of bed every day and train hard and an inner confidence that's necessary in his industry.

"Between journalists, pundits and everyone on the street there are plenty of opinions out there. Some weeks things don't go your way and other weeks they do so you can't be guided by other people and their opinions.

"There are certain newspapers I don't read because I don't respect them too much and certain journalists who seem to have negative things to say about everyone. It is pretty ruthless and rugby has got to the stage where everyone has an opinion and they are entitled to it. So whether it is something good or bad you have to have a happy medium and not let it affect you."

McFadden's style is to just get on with things and not be bogged down by what he can't change. When there was no room for him at the centre at Leinster, he adapted and became a winger. It took work to make a success of it but he relishes a challenge.

"In professional rugby there are pretty big differences in different positions. Winger is a lot more about grass-covering and taking high balls. I adapted but I enjoyed it. I came from a Gaelic football background originally so obviously that would transfer a small bit."

A quick look over his career shows he played his best rugby on the wing, both with Leinster and Ireland. Being consistently in the same position has allowed him to find a rhythm and form. At 27, he has played all his rugby with Leinster, making his debut in 2007. He loves it but a move abroad is something he would never rule out.

"You have to weigh it up. Obviously with rugby your career is a short career but you can't substitute money for happiness.

"When you are in a happy place you are in a better place mentally to play good rugby. I've seen people over the years in different sports going places for money and it is for the wrong reasons. I'm not too money-driven but I like the idea of an experience abroad."

The effect such a move would have on his international career is one of the things he would have to weigh up. He witnessed at first hand what Jonathan Sexton had to contend with last week and feels it can be damaging.

"I think it would hinder your chances a bit because you are not in the set-up and they wouldn't have complete control over you."

That's a decision for another day. Whatever path McFadden chooses, he'll work hard at making a success of it. It's what he does.

Sunday Independent

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