Stage is clear for Madigan to steal spotlight
Leinster's No 10 has golden chance to fill Sexton's boots – for both province and country
IAN MADIGAN'S easy laugh and good-natured swatting away of the hypothetical scenario didn't dilute the flash of ambition that first greeted the thought.
What happens in November if he is leading a successful Leinster team and Jonathan Sexton's Racing Metro have yet to find their rhythm? Who will Joe Schmidt rely on to lead Ireland for the start of his tenure as head coach?
Madigan has so quickly established himself with both Leinster and Ireland that such a dilemma is not as outrageous as might first appear. The 24-year-old is currently Ireland's second-choice out-half behind Sexton.
It is a peculiarity, however, that despite his undisputed elevated status within the Leinster and Irish structures, the contract extension announced yesterday is not a central one with the IRFU; rather it's a provincial one with his club.
In real terms he is still an employee of the IRFU as they finance all four provinces.
Some of the Ireland players, however, are centrally contracted to the IRFU and are paid directly by the Union independently from the allocation to the provinces.
It is extraordinary that the IRFU have no centrally contracted out-half, despite enjoying an estimated €750,000 saving on last year's wage bill. Last season both Jonathan Sexton and Ronan O'Gara were paid directly by the IRFU.
Madigan is undoubtedly the second-choice out-half with Ireland and, with O'Gara now retired and Sexton also off the wage bill, it would have been a strong statement of intent by the IRFU had they directly contracted one of the most talented young players in the country.
The IRFU came in for strong criticism following the breakdown of negotiations with Sexton and his subsequent departure to France.
Had they contracted Madigan directly it would have been lauded as a piece of very good business. Instead it has been left to Leinster to show foresight and they will surely reap the benefits.
Madigan doesn't play rugby to be anyone's second choice. Having served his apprenticeship behind Sexton in Leinster, he's clearly anxious to kick on
to the next stage of his career and, crucially, repay Leinster for the faith shown by them in him.
"I want to be the best player I can be. If, at the end of my career, I can look at myself in the mirror and be happy, that will do," he said.
"I'll look to pick up as many things as I can from Jonny and Jimmy (Gopperth), I'm not naive on that front, but at the end of the day I try and focus on myself as much as I can."
Madigan's professionalism and determination to give himself the best chance to succeed this season was evident when he travelled to Belfast for last Friday night's opening pre-season game against Ulster.
Despite not being involved in the game due to IRFU restrictions, Madigan made the decision to travel and serve as a water-boy and did so with a specific goal in mind.
"I was miked up to the coaches so I could hear exactly how Matt (O'Connor) called the game and what he was saying to the team.
"I was able to hear exactly what messages he was sending out and how he wanted them executed and that will help me when I get back playing."
Madigan's continuing quest to better himself and improve his game was helped enormously by his involvement with the Irish squad last season and, especially, by his position as Ireland's starting out-half in June.
His game has, he believes, improved as a consequence and he is looking forward to showing a more rounded game this season.
"I've added a few more kicks to my arsenal. Hopefully, you'll see me bring in that spiral kick Ronan (O'Gara) used so well for over 15 years and that Jonny has been using of late," he added.
"From a general game-management point of view what I'll look to do is build Matt's (O'Connor) shape and let the players know the shape as early as possible.
"That could be calling a specific play two plays in advance and on the run, so, obviously, I've worked hard in pre-season to know that.
"I will also stand a little deeper at times in games. When it's not on, I need to stand a little deeper to give the players outside me more time and build the shape better.
"I'll be the same attacking threat as I was last year, but with more to my game, hopefully."
It is obviously too early to lumber the 24-year-old former Blackrock College player with too much responsibility, but there is no doubt he represents the new wave of young players emerging so fast that Ireland may be on the brink of a new golden age of international rugby.
Leinster have shown tremendous foresight in tying one of the most promising young internationals in their stable to a long-term deal.
That it's saving the IRFU money – and a lot of it – is simply an added benefit.