Monday 26 September 2016

Where will Ian Madigan be playing next season? Here are five possible destinations

Tom Rooney

Published 24/11/2015 | 14:15

Ian Madigan has been linked with a move away from Leinster
Ian Madigan has been linked with a move away from Leinster

While Robbie Henshaw has declared he will not be leaving Ireland any time soon, international team-mate Ian Madigan is now linked with a highly-lucrative move to English Championship outfit Bristol.

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The plutocrats of European rugby have come to these shores many times before in hope of coaxing away elite indigenous talent, though their overtures have rarely succeeded in reeling in the big fish.

Toulouse courted Brian O’Driscoll, before Michael Cheika convinced him that Leinster’s ambitions would soon match his own, while Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip appeared Toulon-bound before the IRFU ensured they remained in situ.

Of course, Munster lost Sean Dougall, Paddy Butler and JJ Hanrahan of late, but the trio never appeared central to their long-term ambitions.

The same cannot be said for Simon Zebo, who is reputed to be a genuine target for Toulouse, and his departure would leave behind a sizeable void in the province.

And now Madigan, the perpetual bridesmaid of Irish and Leinster out-halves, centres, full-backs and, for a brief spell at the World Cup, scrum halves.

Ian Madigan
Ian Madigan

If indeed Bristol do wish to acquire the 26-year-old, and pay him a reported €500k a year, he has some serious ruminating ahead before his contract expires next summer.

As reported in the Irish Independent, Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins are also potential suitors for the versatile back so, if the Blackrock College man does decide to leave Leinster, he‘s likely to have several options before him.

Here we take a look.

Bristol RFC

Led by former England and Scotland head coach Andy Robinson, Bristol are a club with lofty ambitions and backed by well-moneyed owner Steve Lansdown, who also owns football side Bristol Rovers and the basketball team Bristol Flyers.

Bristol were relegated from the Premiership following the 2008-09 campaign and have been beaten finalists in the previous two play-off finales. They are currently top of the Championship and, among their ranks, are Gavin Henson, Dwayne Peel, Tom Varndell and Madigan’s former Leinster teammate Jack O’Connell.

If they club were to finally return to the top-flight of the English game, the play-maker is unlikely to be the only high-profile name to be recruited. The chance to be the creative force around which Robinson builds his side, could be too tempting for Madigan to resist. The money isn’t bad either.

Ian Madigan
Ian Madigan

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Harlequins

How interesting it could be to see how Madigan would flourish under the eye of Conor O’Shea, a true proponent of the heads up rugby the 25-time capped international thrives in most.

What’s more, his game can only develop if deployed in a back-line containing Danny Care, Jamie Roberts, Mike Brown and Tim Visser. Quins finished a disappointing eighth in the Premiership last season but have started this term strongly.

The club have three out-halves on the books; Nick Evans, Tim Swiel and Ben Botica, though the ultra-confident Madigan shouldn’t be daunted by this. Whether Harlequins are willing to match Bristol’s wages seems improbable.

France

Should the utility player become a free-agent, clubs of the Top 14 are bound to pursue him. Before signing a deal with Leinster and the IRFU in 2013, it was thought he was headed for France, but the player stayed put.

Who exactly might come knocking is anyone’s guess, but Simon Mannix’s Pau have a considerable Irish contingent while Grenoble head coach Bernard Jackman is a known admirer of his former provincial teammate.

Leinster

As many have before him, Madigan may once more sign on the dotted line for his club. However, the moment might be right for him to test the waters elsewhere. When Jonathan Sexton departed for Racing Metro it was thought the time had come for his deputy to step into the fold and lead the side in the coming years.

But, in came Matt O’Connor and Jimmy Gopperth, and two seasons of positional musical chairs and little progress for both Madigan and Leinster.

The real shame is that he was in the form of his career prior to Joe Schmidt’s departure for the national set-up, and Madigan finished top points scorer in the Pro 12, which Leinster won at the end of the 2012-13 season.

In the interim, Madigan has established himself as a fine international, though only a first-choice one in the absence of others. Sexton has returned and, unforeseen catastrophes aside, will not be unseated provincially or internationally for the foreseeable future.

What’s more, in midfield, Madigan must contend with the likes of Noel Reid, Luke Fitzgerald, Ben Te’o, the promising Garry Ringrose and potentially Robbie Henshaw. It would surely be a crime for such a uniquely talented footballer to spend his prime years playing second fiddle; a thought which has surely crossed his mind on frequent occasion.

Munster

The least mooted, though possibly most universally pleasing option. First off, keeping Madigan on Irish soil is what the IRFU will prioritise most, but to do so they’ll have to award him a centralised contract.

A move south would be a fresh beginning for Madigan and a chance to spearhead one the great clubs of European rugby. Andrew Conway left Leinster for their rivals and Dominic Ryan is thought to be mulling over the idea, so there would be a decent cohort of blue ex-pats.

The 2006 and 2008 Heineken Cup champions are not replete with creative backs, and recruiting the Dublin native would surely provide an added dimension to their offensive arsenal.

Ian Keatley has been credible but not spectacular since arriving from Connacht and, though Tyler Bleyendaal is unquestionably talented, his battles with injury have conspired to limit his contribution.

A place-kicker who can rack up the type of percentages Ronan O’Gara once did is conspicuously absent from Anthony Foley’s squad. However, Madigan remains inconsistent playing the territory game and might not offer the stability in the pivot role Foley craves.

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