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Madigan has that special awareness – O'Driscoll

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Ian Madigan, who has signed a new deal

Ian Madigan, who has signed a new deal

SPORTSFILE

Ian Madigan, who has signed a new deal

BRIAN O'DRISCOLL has been generous in his praise of Ian Madigan, his likely centre partner in tomorrow evening's Pro12 final against Ulster.

Leinster's player of the year has been filling the void at inside centre in Gordon D'Arcy's absence in recent weeks and, while O'Driscoll does point out that his young apprentice still has much to learn, he is enthused by his progress.

"The good thing about Ian is that he doesn't lack confidence. It is one of his real strengths," said O'Driscoll.

"He's definitely on a learning curve at 12, but he brings a special awareness to the position and can see things from 10 that help him.

"He is strong and brings lots of things to the game. He's shown this year that he's capable of being a game changer. He just gets the simple things done. Jonny (Sexton) will pull the strings if he is at 10 and Ian is at 12.

"Both of his international caps have come at 12. That's the kind of talent he is."

Madigan was an unused replacement in last year's final when Leinster lost by a point to the Ospreys. The enduring image from that final was that of O'Driscoll sinking to his knees and burying his head in the RDS grass in despair.

Leinster had won their third Heineken Cup title the previous weekend – their second in a row – but that defeat to Ospreys was their third Celtic League final loss in succession. It's a damning record and one that O'Driscoll admits does eat at him.

"I wouldn't say it stayed with me for the year or that it haunts me, but I look back on it definitely as one that got away," said O'Driscoll.

Leinster, uncharacteristically, blew an eight-point lead in the last 10 minutes of that decider, so four final losses on the trot is unconscionable for O'Driscoll.

"That loss took a shine off the Heineken Cup victory last year," he said.

"This year we haven't won a Heineken Cup, but we have won an Amlin. We do want to win a double and are desperate to make sure it's not four (final losses) in a row."

The extent of the challenge that is facing double-chasing Leinster this weekend can be measured by the quality of one of the players O'Driscoll will be in direct opposition to – Stuart Olding.

The 20-year-old has just a handful of caps for Ulster and was third-choice inside-centre behind Paddy Wallace and Luke Marshall at the start of the season.

He has been magnificent for Ulster in their absence and will certainly cause Leinster headaches tomorrow evening.

IMPOSE

"He seems to have a very well-rounded game," acknowledged O'Driscoll. "For the weekend, it'll be about trying to impose ourselves on him and giving him something to think about rather than giving too much respect and standing off people.

"He's really stepped up to the plate and he's got an opportunity of going on the summer tour as well – with a number of injuries in the centre, he's got every chance of getting capped."

The threats from Ulster will not come just from the centre. O'Driscoll was also generous in his praise for some of Ulster's stand-out performers this season, not least his Ireland team-mate Paddy Jackson, who has put the experience of last year's Heineken Cup final defeat behind him.

"Paddy is a really nice footballer. He's probably someone you can't leave a lot of time and space to, because he's capable of cutting defences open.

"He's a big threat himself. Physically he might not be huge, but he's a smart footballer, he reads the game excellently. He and Ruan (Pienaar) have a very good half-back partnership and they work really well for Ulster.

"Jared Payne has been excellent at 15 for them, Nick Williams has been a revelation and 'Trimbs' (Andrew Trimble) has been excellent for them this year.

"You can't imagine a more deserving team to be in the final than themselves and we're looking forward to going up against them," he added.

Irish Independent