Monday 19 March 2018

'I can see some great days ahead' - Fergus McFadden's comments will excite Leinster fans

If you offered us this start a few weeks ago, we'd have bitten your hand off - now we need to keep it going

Leinster’s Joey Carber. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Leinster’s Joey Carber. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Joey Carbery Picture: Sportsfile

Fergus McFadden

Now that the dust has settled after a pivotal block of games it's nice to come away with points and positives. Looking at both tables, it's two big positives. Joint top of the Guinness PRO12 and top of our Pool in the Champions Cup. Plenty to work on, but you'd take that at the start of the season.

Munster in the Aviva Stadium is always a marker for where our season is going, so to take four points was a lovely platform to build on going into the first European pool game. The two or three weeks of training and playing under Stuart's new structures were displayed in our performance and it's a really exciting time for the club.

Naturally there is no point having isolated performances, so backing up the Munster win with a five-pointer at home against Castres the week after was encouraging - considering Johnny wasn't playing - but that then brought Joey Carbery even more into the picture.

Joey has really grasped his opportunities with both hands so far this season and it was no surprise to the rest of the squad that he put in such an impressive performance on his European debut. Outside of Joey, I thought that display from the team in general was our best in a long time and it was encouraging to see some of the younger guys coming in to their own, like Garry Ringrose, Josh van der Flier - and Joey, of course.

Fergus McFadden during Leinster squad training Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Fergus McFadden during Leinster squad training Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Others also made an impact that evening. Ian Nagle and Jamison Gibson-Park made their European debuts, as did Dan Leavy off the bench, and 100 caps for Jack McGrath. A big night for all concerned.

I remember back in 2009, when we went into the season pursuing high standards and trophies from the start, and you could tell something different was happening. The pressure being placed on more experienced guys by younger players drove the team to great things, so I really hope we are going down a similar road at the moment.

At the time you had Dev behind Leo, Seanie behind Jenno, Johnny behind Felipe, and it made training more competitive and translated into better team performances. Twenty-three players receive medals on the day of a final, but the recipe for success runs a lot deeper - because you need 35-40 players challenging each other on a daily basis for a season to maintain the standard required.

With some of the homegrown talent coming up through the Leinster player pathway, I can see some great days ahead. Looking through the squad you have so many guys who have grown up supporting the team and aspiring to be in a blue jersey from a young age. I think it places a bigger responsibility and identity on guys when they do put the jersey on, and I know for one I am really proud of that.

Jack McGrath Picture: Sportsfile
Jack McGrath Picture: Sportsfile

Last week, after the tragic death of Anthony Foley, the performance the Munster players brought to the game in such difficult circumstances was a credit to them, and was the send-off Axel deserved. He coached me with Ireland a couple of seasons ago and I only have positive things to say about him as a coach and a man. The tributes to him last week sum up the impact and level of respect he had in the rugby world.

Last week against Montpellier I felt it was a win within a loss for us. To come away with a losing bonus point in those conditions after going down 22-6 with 14 men was dogged by the lads. Staying in the fight when the game was getting away from us is something you can't coach, and I think we showed great character. I remember we went over there in 2011 and snuck a draw when Johnny knocked over a penalty in the last play of the game. At the time we didn't realise but it was a huge step in a journey that brought us to the final in Cardiff, where we went on to win the competition. Let's hope its a good omen!

This week it's Connacht - and things won't get any easier. Pat Lam has them playing at the standard that won them the league last year. Beating Zebre away by 50 points was a statement of how ruthless they are becoming, so we will need to be at our best to win at home on Saturday in the RDS. Get down and be the difference for us!

Irish Independent

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