| 6.3°C Dublin

It was always my ambition to come back and play for Ireland - Madigan


Close

Ian Madigan’s last season with Bristol was hugely frustrating as he was nudged out of the picture, but the out-half is looking at his move to Ulster as a fresh start. Photo: Sportsfile

Ian Madigan’s last season with Bristol was hugely frustrating as he was nudged out of the picture, but the out-half is looking at his move to Ulster as a fresh start. Photo: Sportsfile

DICKSONDIGITAL

Ian Madigan’s last season with Bristol was hugely frustrating as he was nudged out of the picture, but the out-half is looking at his move to Ulster as a fresh start. Photo: Sportsfile

Back in 2016 when Ian Madigan was weighing up his options, he raised his head above the parapet by suggesting he would think twice about joining another province.

Growing up in Dublin, Madigan only ever dreamed of pulling on the Leinster jersey, so the idea of playing for a rival club didn't exactly float his boat.

So, as soon as it became clear that he would be leaving his home province, Bordeaux came in with a lucrative offer and that was that.

The IRFU were keen for Madigan to remain in Ireland, but by the time Munster sounded out his interest it was too late in the day and off to France he went.

Four years later, he finds himself back in Ireland ready to relaunch his career with an Ulster side who finally look like they are going places again.

All the while Madigan was in France before spending the last three years in England with Bristol, there was a nagging desire to have another crack at making it at home.

The door back to Leinster never opened, but when Ulster came calling it seemed like the perfect fit.

Madigan's return does, however, beg the question: what has changed since he felt it was important to protect the parochial sense within Irish rugby?

Purist

"I would have had strong thoughts about players moving from province to province. I'm a purist in that sense," Madigan says.

"You're from Leinster, you play for Leinster. That's great, same with the Munster lads, the Connacht lads and the Ulster lads, that's brilliant.

"Things have changed for me. For me to have moved from Leinster to Munster, or to Connacht or Ulster at that time, would have been a much bigger deal.

"Having moved to another club, to then move to a different province, it's definitely diluted. In the meantime, there's been more movement of players as well.

"That's not to say that the rivalry between the provinces is diluted in any way. Ultimately, the four provinces are looking to feed into the national team and have that national team be as strong as possible.

"If it means moving a player from Munster to Connacht for the good of the national team so that that player goes down and develops and plays for Ireland, instead of going to a club in the UK, or a French club, it's only a positive.

"My journey is what it has been, but I've arrived here now, and while I'm not from Ulster or Belfast, I've been made to feel welcome and I can guarantee you that when I pull on that white shirt I'll be giving it absolutely everything."

You can sense the positivity dripping from every one of Madigan's pores.

His last season with Bristol may have been hugely frustrating as he was nudged out of the picture, but the versatile out-half is very much looking at his move to Ulster as a fresh start.

At 31, Madigan still has plenty to offer, and the fact that he doesn't have too many miles on the clock in the last 12 months may work in his favour.

"I don't look back with any regrets," he insists. "I made the decision to go to Bordeaux. It didn't quite work out, but if I had the decision again I'd have gone with it. I weighed it up, I talked to the people whose advice I valued, and ultimately I made the decision and I'll stand by that. I still learned a huge amount from it.

"The move to Bristol, it didn't finish great, but I'm still very proud of what we achieved as a team and what I achieved personally over that three years.

"There was always an ambition to come back home," he adds.

"To be honest, it was a pretty straightforward move. I made no secret of the fact that I wanted to come back to Ireland.

Illusions

"I felt if I left it any longer the ship would have sailed on me potentially getting back into an Irish set-up. I'm under no illusions, I'm still a long way off that happening."

Buoyed by Andy Farrell's recent assertion that the international side remains firmly open for him, Madigan now has his sights set on usurping Billy Burns at Ulster, starting with Sunday week's return to action against Connacht. In order for that to happen, Madigan believes he must prove he has matured from his free-wheeling days with Leinster, when game management wasn't exactly high on his priority list.

"I probably think my way around a lot more," the 30-times capped Ireland international says.

"The game has evolved, you can't play as flat to the line consistently. You have to vary your depth. I feel that's a big area that I've adjusted.

"When you're exiting out of your own area, it wasn't something I'd have thought a lot about when you're a bit more carefree, but as I've grown older, I've realised how important that is. I'm spending more time on that.

"I've had six more years of lifting weights four or five times a week, so I'm a lot stronger, so better defensively, and hopefully we'll see that coming through once the games begin."

Madigan remains one of the exceptions in terms of Ireland internationals flying the nest, and while the IRFU are generally confident of keeping their frontline players in the country, those on the next rung are always deemed a flight risk.

The union could, however, point to Madigan's big-money move to Bordeaux as proof that the grass isn't always greener on the other side.

"It's very important to pick the right club," Madigan adds, as a parting word of warning for any young player thinking of following his path.

"You want to be going somewhere where there's a very good coach number one. Then you're looking at what senior players are there that you can learn from.

"I'd want to be careful too, you don't want to be going to a club where you could potentially be getting an absolute drumming every weekend. That's tough on you both physically and mentally."

The hope is that the last four years have provided Madigan with plenty of life lessons which he can pass on to those in Ulster and further afield.

One thing for sure is that his second coming will be fascinating to watch.

Irish Independent