Saturday 26 May 2018

'Proud to be Irish' - Ian Madigan's reason for wearing 1916 branded boots will have you bursting with pride

Ian Madigan marked the 1916 centenary by wearing a special pair of boots in the game against the Ospreys last month (SPORTSFILE)
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

It is a long time since the 60 pairs of boots on the Lansdowne Road turf were all black and we've long-since become accustomed to the variety of colours that professional players don before taking to the pitch.

But it seems you can still make a statement with your footwear as Ian Madigan proved when he wore a pair of lime-green boots with '1916' inscribed on the side for Leinster's win over Ospreys last month - a game that finished 19-16 to his side with the out-half kicking the winning penalty.

The 27-year-old has revealed his reasons for paying tribute to those who died 100 years ago, explaining that his great-grandfather Dr John Barrett treated the wounded during the fighting on the streets of Dublin.

Tonight, the Leinster out-half will resume his role as back-up to Johnny Sexton, waiting patiently for his moment to make a mark on Leinster's crucial Guinness Pro12 meeting with Munster at the Aviva Stadium, hoping to soak up the acclaim of the 40,000-plus fans who have made their way to Ballsbridge, but last Sunday he was in the stands for a very different national occasion as he attended the official commemorations on O'Connell Street.

Most professional players avoid public statements that might raise their heads above the parapet and Madigan is acutely aware that, as an Ireland international, he represents all traditions north and south when he dons the green jersey, but when the personal connection to the events 100 years ago was revealed by his mother, Maria, he felt that it was important to mark the occasion.

"It was just to signify a big part of our history. A small part of my family were a part of it, my great grandfather was a doctor on the first day of the Rising and was treating people," he reveals.

"It's a massive part of our history and it was just to mark that. It wasn't one-sided and we're in a privileged position as sports people, we're in the public eye and when we saw everything over the Easter weekend, around the centenary and the turn-outs that the events got, we saw how much it means to people.

"It was just nice to be in a position to be able to have a small mark of respect for that.

"There's not a huge amount outside of that, it's just that he was involved in it on the day as a medic. It was nice, when my mum told me about it, to mark it myself.

"I know that when I'm playing for Ireland I'm not representing the Republic, but it wasn't anything like that; it's marking the day and that was what was behind it.

Leinster’s Dave Kearney, left, and James Tracy share a joke during training in Belfield. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

"I was in at the parade on Sunday, there was a good buzz around town; a great turn-out. Enda McNulty and Dave Kearney were there, it was great to be part of it.

"It was something that we really got right as a country, we managed to mark it in a really classy way and it just made people proud to be Irish, really, which is great.

"It's probably not something Irish people would have said, maybe 50 years ago, that they were really proud to be Irish; but I think we've come such a long way, it's such a great country.

"When you're over in the States or in England, you see the St George's flag everywhere, you see the American flag everywhere; I think it was nice over the last few weeks to see the tricolour everywhere. We're a very proud country and we should be proud of what we represent."

Not many people get the chance to put their patriotism into practice, but Madigan has represented his country 29 times.

For the 27-year-old, it's important to remember what he represents and where he has come from and he has enlisted the help of his grandfather, Larry Brassill, to help with that process last summer.

"Before going to the World Cup, I asked my granddad to do an audio on what makes him proud to be Irish and I used to listen to that before games," he explains.

"It had some of my own personal history in it of my journey and what it took me to get into the Irish jersey, including my Gaelic football days, my days in Blackrock, some of the setbacks I had or my passage through the Academy...

Sinead O'Connor

"He included greater parts of history in it, the great musicians we've had, the likes of the Dubliners, Sinead O'Connor, U2 all the way through to the great engineers and great scientists who've won Nobel prizes like Ernest Walton... so it is something I would draw upon.

"I remember listening to it on the bus to games, it would fill me up with pride and it's one of those one-per-centres that makes you put your body on the line even more."

That is all part of the hard work Madigan puts into his preparation, but he can't be too methodical given his role so often means that he is usually kept in the glass box marked 'emergency'.

At the World Cup, he produced arguably his best Ireland performance when introduced early against France, but a week later he was told he was starting 24 hours before the quarter-final against Argentina and his lack of preparation time was highlighted by Joe Schmidt as a contributing factor to defeat.

Hero: Brian O’Driscoll’s passes were legendary.

Although ostensibly back-up to Sexton today, he knows he could be asked to do one of any number of jobs across the Leinster backline and has to be ready to perform. Last season, he was a late call-up at full-back against Munster, while he replaced Brian O'Driscoll at centre when the legend bowed out early in the 2014 Pro12 final.

Next year, when he moves to Bordeaux, he hopes to prosper as the main man, but for the moment he must be ready.

"In ways, starting games is easier because it's a definite starting point, you know what's coming," he admits.

"Whereas, when you're on the bench you can be on after five, 10 minutes; there's games when you're not brought on at all, which is obviously a massive anti-climax because you've spent the whole week preparing your mind and your body for 80 minutes of battle and hard work and then you don't get on and that process just starts again.

"It's a tough part of the game, you're starting back on Monday or Tuesday with a big muscle breakdown sessions, pushing yourself really hard. So, it's not like you've the same freshness and just save it up for the following week, it's more of a negative, because you're losing your match focus and having your eye in.

"During the week, I would be going through different scenarios of coming into the game; what plays I'd be looking to do if I was on in the first half or what plays would be left to me if I was coming on late in the game.

"I do this thing called mind-gym, where I visualise myself in the game. I might lie down and for maybe 15 minutes and visualise different scenarios, whether you're behind or ahead on the scoreboard and how you're going to react in those situations.

"Quite often they're close to what you predicted. It's almost like deja vu when you're calling plays and you've got confidence that you're calling the right plays because you've visualised what you want to happen.

Ian Madigan of Leinster. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"I remember the first time I was on the bench and you're told you're coming on, the nerves hit you like a wave. Now, when I'm told I'm coming on I'm much more focused on what my first action is going to be and building my way into the game.

"As a younger player, you're thinking, 'I have to make an impact' and there's more of a chance that you'll force a play and it maybe not going well; you end up chasing the game then."

Madigan admits there is a frustrating element to the coverage he receives as a replacement.

"If you're only on for a short period of time, you're judged on maybe only a handful of actions and if you get one of those wrong then you're going to be judged quite critically on that," he explains.

"Whereas if one of those five actions were over 80 minutes, it gets blended into a performance and the view on your performance will be much more general.

"The flip-side of that is when you come on for 10 minutes and everything goes well for you, then you're seen as the superstar. Likewise, if that's lengthened into a big performance it gets put in with other average stuff. It can be quite fickle."

At most, Madigan has six games left with Leinster before he bids farewell and heads for his fresh start in Bordeaux.

Behind the scenes, his mother is arranging the move while also keeping him on point with his French lessons, but his focus is on leaving Leinster on a high point even if he is not getting sentimental about his farewell just yet.

"I don't really have: 'Oh, this is my last time playing in the Sportsground, this is my last game against Munster in the Aviva'," he says. "For me, when I'm pulling on the green jersey for Ireland or the blue of Leinster I'd always treat it as my last game. My preparation is no different in the sense that I'm just going out there to do the best I can for the club and I'm not going to start going down the route of this being my last of last or anything like that.

"This is probably a must-win for us and for Munster, so yeah it's about peaking for this time of the season. It's something we got right two seasons ago and fell short of last year.

"These games are certainly as big as they always were. Munster beat us home and away last year, we beat them down in Thomond Park this year; it's a game you're going into that's 50-50 and the team that turns up on the day with the best desire will have a very good chance of winning.

"The attendance will indicate to you that it's still a very big picture. There's going to be more than 40,000 people there and Munster have possibly turned the corner.

"They were very good last week. They've got some seriously good internationals coming into their squad. Tommy O'Donnell is hitting form, Zeebs (Simon Zebo) is playing great stuff and has massive confidence - every time he gets the ball he's looking to do something.

"They're rock solid with (Conor) Murray at No 9, so if we're not on our game they'll get the better of us. It's certainly a game when we know we're going into a serious battle."

Under cover of darkness, Life Style Sports, official retail partner to Leinster Rugby, utilised bespoke 3D body mapping and live light projection technology to bring the city's most-loved statues to life as glowing champions for the team. Life Style Sports is calling on all Leinster Rugby fans to get behind the team by wearing blue in their pursuit of Pro12 Glory. The Leinster home jersey is available from all Life Style Sports shops priced from €60 for adults and €45 for kids.

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