Pressure not a problem for kicking king Madigan
When Ian Madigan tunes into events at Augusta National this weekend he'll do so with a touch of empathy.
Of all the team sportsmen, it is the goal-kickers who most identify with the individuals who put their reputations on the line and, as a keen golfer and former tennis player, there has always been a strong independent streak in the Leinster man.
Last Saturday, his team leaned heavily on their inside-centre's right leg as he kicked all of the three-time champions' points in a one-score victory over Bath that booked a place in the Champions Cup semi-final.
Madigan nailed every opportunity he was handed from the tee on a day of small margins as Leinster furthered their interest in European competition for another two weeks, and when they take on Toulon in Marseille on Sunday week, he'll be expected to deliver the same again if they are to fulfil his confident prediction of beating the champions in their own backyard.
Like the golfers approaching the first tee this afternoon, he goes through his own routine and process every time in order to produce the consistent accuracy that delivers results.
"When you're playing in a knock-out game you know every point counts.
"So you just stick to the process whether you're behind in a game or you're taking a kick at the start of the match or the end of a match," he explains.
"It's still the same pressure on you. And, for me, it's about going through the same process regardless of whether you're kicking a kick at the end of a game in a league match or you're 14 points up.
"You still want to get it as badly as a kick that could win you a game to put you through to the semi-final of Europe. It's just about sticking to that process."
It was the third time Europe's top scorer has been entirely responsible for his side's total in seven Champions Cup outings this season. Rarely have a Leinster team been so reliant on one man's boot.
Today is a down day for the squad preparing to face Newport Gwent Dragons, but for the kickers it's a chance to get some extra practice in.
So, what is the process Madigan talks about when it comes to delivering from the tee?
"You can practise pressure kicks. There's a few different ways of doing that. You can visualise yourself in the situation when you're training," he says.
"Another way is to have competition with other kickers by putting something small on the line.
"With professional sports-people, we're all so naturally competitive that even if you're playing for something small as coffees or lunch, you'll want to win just as badly as you'd want to win the quarter-final of the Champions Cup.
"When the other guy has kicked three from four and you've got three and are kicking your fourth to win it . . . Then, even though it's in front of an empty RDS, you're still going to go back to the same process that you're hopefully going to use in a match to hopefully kick the ball over the posts."
It is a lot of responsibility on the 25-year-old's shoulders, but he relishes the challenge.
"You have to look forward to it," he insists. "That has to be the mindset you have going into a game. The chances are you're going to miss if you have a negative mindset. Whereas if you're hoping that the ref is going to give your team penalties and he gives you one, then you'll approach that kick with a much more positive mental attitude.
"Goal-kicking is something I really enjoy doing. When it goes well I get a lot of confidence for other parts of my game from it.
"I enjoy going out on a Wednesday and kicking for 80 minutes. Similar to a golfer going to a driving range. A lot of the time it's just me, Jimmy (Gopperth) and Richie (Murphy). Or just me and Richie. And it's a part of the week I really enjoy."
Given what's at stake over the next couple of weeks, Leinster will need their marksman on top form.
"We effectively have knockout games all the way through now," Madigan says. "Realistically, if we lose a league game we're not going to make the top four."