Waiting game to pay off for McFadden
Published 26/03/2010 | 05:00
"WHAT colour do Leinster play in?" one reporter asked Fergus McFadden earlier this season.
The question was qualified. "I only ask because, at the moment, you've played for Ireland across all levels more times than you've played for Leinster."
McFadden agrees, but makes the argument that his patience will be rewarded and that trying to oust Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy from the starting slots is nigh on impossible.
Progress over the course of his career has been slow, if steady. Last season represented further progress in his career. He was Leinster's 23rd man for the Heineken Cup final, close enough to the action to appreciate what was going on, but too far away to fully enjoy it.
So, he waits, and when given a start, the 23-year-old has a happy knack of reminding both Michael Cheika and Declan Kidney of his capabilities.
He was the Churchill Cup's player of the tournament last June and landed 36 points, including three tries with the remainder coming from his ever-improving boot, in Leinster's last two matches.
That Churchill Cup campaign prompted a number of English club sides to come knocking, dangling the carrot of regular first-team rugby, but McFadden chose to stay at Leinster, saying: "I'm happy where I am at the moment.
"I know I might not be getting as much game time as other players, but I feel my time will come and I'll take my chance when it does."
Former Ireland international Killian Keane worked with McFadden at UCD where Keane is backs coach and he sees a bright future for the versatile centre.
"He plays primarily at 13 and that's where he played at UCD, but he can certainly play 12 as we've seen and he could probably even play 10 at a push," Keane said.
"Obviously in Leinster Jonny Sexton is there, but he's a very talented player. Some of his place-kicking in his last few games with Leinster has been very impressive. I think he's an excellent player.
"In terms of UCD, what I liked about him most was that he was a great character and was always willing to play once he was released by Leinster.
"One game a couple of years ago, he had been on the bench for Leinster on the Friday night before in an away match in the Magners League and they got back into Dublin at lunch time on the Saturday and he literally got straight into his car from the airport to play and he was more than happy to do it.
"For me that's the most impressive thing about him, he has great character and a great team ethic."
That character and team ethic has served him well to this point and he is seen as an outside centre in waiting by both Kidney and the Leinster staff. He will be in the starting line up when the side to face Connacht is announced today.
It's another tiny step forward for McFadden, who played in the Heineken Cup for the first time this season.
"The Churchill Cup was maybe where a lot of people saw him for the first time, but I think he's more than capable of filling-in.
"In the event that either 'Darce' or Brian weren't available to play, I'm sure Michael Cheika would have no problem playing him and that's probably the best compliment you can pay him. He's a really valuable player for Leinster at the moment. He mightn't be at the front of supporters' minds in that way, but he will be very, very soon."
McFadden has been forced to watch while his contemporaries have blazed a trail as far as the Lions Test team.
As a schools player, he was part of Rob Kearney's Clongowes side (though he was a year behind the Louth man) that lost the Leinster Schools Cup final to Luke Fitzgerald's Blackrock in 2004.
When he finally graduated to Leinster's senior squad after being groomed by John McClean, UCD's Director of Rugby, he admits to being intimidated by the presence of O'Driscoll and Co.
And that's saying something considering, as a 15-year-old he hit the gym alongside the notorious Slobodan Milosevic. The Yugoslav was being detained in the prison McFadden's father was in charge of in The Hague while on trial for war crimes.
McFadden is already on record about the regard he has for O'Driscoll: "When I came up first from the Academy I was a small bit overawed. Maybe not overawed, but when I was training with him, I was looking at him thinking, 'Jesus, that's Brian O'Driscoll'. I was in school a few years ago looking at him in a totally different way."
He has spoken openly about wanting to be part of next year's World Cup squad and he probably would have picked up his first senior cap last summer in the tour of North America were it not for Leinster's extended European campaign.
His debut will come in time and waiting is something he's has been quite good at. In the meantime, is there anything he needs to work on in his game to make the final step?
"No, I have always thought he was a smashing player," Keane said. "Fergus' biggest problem is that everyone always compares him to Brian O'Driscoll and if we all were compared to him, no one would ever play the game."