Wednesday 20 September 2017

Ruaidhri O'Connor: Madigan's next move will make or break his career

Move to Bordeaux has turned sour for Ireland out-half

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ian Madigan turns 28 next month and perhaps that looming milestone is the reason behind his haste.

Once again, he finds himself the back-up. Having left Leinster for a No 1 slot with Bordeaux Begles, he has found himself behind New Zealander Simon Hickey in the pecking order and as a result it appears he is looking for a way out.

It has been the story of his career. At Leinster he had two stints covering for Johnny Sexton and, when the St Mary's man headed off to Racing 92, Jimmy Gopperth blocked his path for two seasons.

French rugby newspaper Midi Olimpique broke the news yesterday that the Dubliner is seeking a release from the second season of his two-year deal with Bordeaux and that the club are not of a mind to stand in his way, providing they can sign a replacement.

Madigan's move to the heart of French wine country looked idyllic from the outside, but it hasn't gone to plan. He started the season as the first-choice out-half, but when Hickey arrived after re-signing he took over as the No 1.

Despite picking up an injury in November, the Irish star has been involved in 16 games out of 24, 11 from the start. He came off the bench at centre in their home defeat to Castres last weekend, the latest poor result in a disappointing season, and with Lionel Beauxis given permission to leave for Lyon recently and Adam-Ashley Cooper heading for the exit at the end of the season, it appears Madigan is next on Raphael Ibanez's overhaul list.

Posing for a selfie with a supporter Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Posing for a selfie with a supporter Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Odyssey

They are lining up Toulouse's Toby Flood and if a deal can be done it appears that the Premiership beckons for the next chapter of Madigan's odyssey.

Northampton Saints are believed to be leading the race for his signature and if the move goes through, his next challenge will be whether he can do what JJ Hanrahan could not and nail down a starting spot at Franklin's Gardens.

It is approaching the stage in Madigan's career where it has to happen soon if it is going to happen at all.

Greeting Ulster's Paddy Jackson before a Champions Cup tie Photo: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile
Greeting Ulster's Paddy Jackson before a Champions Cup tie Photo: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile

That's not to say that he hasn't had a good innings so far.

He has accumulated an impressive medal collection, played 30 times for his country and had many highs on the pitch, but he has long had a burning desire to be the main man at club level and as yet it has not come to pass.

Although he challenges the notion that 'game-management' lets him down, successive coaches have preferred to keep him either in reserve or deployed in a different position.

Joe Schmidt always preferred Sexton, while Matt O'Connor went for Gopperth. When Sexton returned, he was the first choice under Leo Cullen. Eventually, Madigan decided to head abroad to try his luck.

His versatility is an asset that makes him hugely attractive as a squad player. It helped him get his nose ahead of Paddy Jackson on to the Ireland bench on many occasions, while his performances as a replacement helped keep him there.

A hugely talented operator with a consistently high kicking percentage, a good injury profile and a big-game temperament, Madigan is an attractive proposition on the transfer market where quality out-halves are at a premium.

He will attract a good salary wherever he lands, but it is the No 10 shirts he craves.

Yesterday, Ireland manager Paul Dean - himself a fine exponent of the out-half trade - suggested Madigan should look to home, but the only province where he would walk in and automatically assume No 1 status would be Connacht.

Had he stayed at Leinster this season, he would have spent most of the campaign as the starting No 10 given Sexton's injury problems, but his exit opened the door for Joey Carbery and Ross Byrne, who have both impressed.

The IRFU's solution was a move to Munster, but Madigan couldn't see himself in red and opted to move abroad. In the mean-time Tyler Bleyendaal - who becomes available to Joe Schmidt next year - has assumed starting status and Rassie Erasmus yesterday ruled out a move for Madigan.

Paddy Jackson is the main man at Ulster, so that leaves Connacht, but having turned down Munster is seems unlikely that this product of the Leinster system would transfer west.

Dean suggested that the IRFU were doing their best to bring Madigan back, but whether a place as a squad player for Leinster would be enough for him remains to be seen.

It looks far more likely that his destination will be England, leaving him in the 'Break in case of emergency' status for Schmidt who has not called on him for this Six Nations despite his lack of options at out-half.

"We are incredibly keen to support the provinces," Schmidt said of his decision not to recall Madigan ahead of Ian Keatley.

Demonstrate

"If we demonstrate to players that we are happy to pick players from outside of Ireland, then potentially one of the big draw cards for keeping them here will be lifted and players will more likely go overseas.

"One of the thing that keeps them here is the player management, and another thing is they know they will be closer to the front of the queue to play for their national team.

"I have had some good conversations with Ian (Madigan) recently. He is not off the radar. We know we can whistle him in, but during the Six Nations we play two matches and he would have to go back, we play one match and he would have to go back.

"It allows an opportunity for other people. This time last year nobody was talking about Joey Carbery. Joey has picked up an injury but before that he launched himself into the limelight. I very much doubt that would have happened if Ian Madigan was there.

"There are flip-sides either way. It's not an ideal situation not to have every player who is Irish-qualified on the island and immediately available.

"The ones who are playing overseas are available but it is a fluctuating availability."

Within the Irish dressing-room, his former team-mates just want him to make the right move.

"I have a lot of time for Ian, I thought it was the right decision at the time," Jamie Heaslip said of his move yesterday. "He is a smart guy and I just hope he makes the right decision for him. He is a good player."

Proving that on a regular basis by starting at out-half week in, week out is his ambition.

The choice of next move is a pivotal one for Madigan. At almost 28, he is in the prime of his playing life and it is time for him to nail down that starting spot.

It is in that knowledge that he has made the move of approaching Bordeaux to secure a release, reluctant to stick around for another year of covering from the bench.

Will it be any different in the Premiership? Hanrahan's move to Saints is a cautionary tale, but Madigan has plenty of self-belief and will hope that finally a coach will show full faith in his abilities.

Wild Geese - successes and failures

Three who soared

Geordan Murphy

The versatile full-back enjoyed a hugely successful 16-year spell with Leicester Tigers, winning Heineken Cup medals in 2001 and '02, while also setting a record of appearing in eight Premiership finals.

Murphy went on to captain Leicester and Ireland and won the Grand Slam in 2009, while also appearing at the World Cup.

Eoin Reddan

Left for Wasps after spells with Connacht and Munster and quickly established himself as a crowd favourite with the English club.

Reddan scored a try in Wasps' 2007 Heineken Cup victory before Leinster eventually prised him back to Ireland two years later.

Marty Moore

Eyebrows were raised when Moore was allowed to leave Leinster last year but the tighthead prop has enjoyed a fine debut season with Wasps.

Moore is still out in the cold in terms of international recognition but should he end the season with a Champions Cup or Premiership medal, it will be difficult to ignore him.

Three who failed to fly

Johnny Sexton

The Ireland out-half's big-money move to France didn't pay off as Sexton struggled with injuries on the back of the amount of game-time that Racing 92 demanded of him.

Sexton failed to win a trophy in his two-year stint in France, was allegedly involved in a training ground bust-up with a team-mate and was stood down for 12 weeks after suffering repeated blows to his head. Sexton's misery was compounded when Racing won the Top14 in the season after he left.

JJ Hanrahan

The Kerry native decided to leave Munster for Northampton in a search for game time in his favoured out-half position but Hanrahan hasn't exactly set the Premiership alight.

A series of injuries hampered his progress with the Saints but he also found himself playing at inside-centre, which defeated the purpose of why he wanted to move in the first place.

Eoin Griffin

Played just 26 times in two seasons for London Irish and was part of the squad relegated from the Premiership last season.

Irish Independent

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