Sport Rugby

Thursday 15 November 2018

Resilient McFadden keeps on coming back for more

Fergus McFadden. Photo: Sportsfile
Fergus McFadden. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Perhaps age and experience may colour your view but, for all the excitement engendered by a clutch of seemingly nerveless young Irish stars this season, it has been just as rewarding to witness several so-called veterans defiantly immune to the sands of time.

Instead of withering with advancing years, some have wallowed.

Rob Kearney's demise (at 32!) was widely extrapolated by some and exaggerated by many more before Christmas when he was elbowed from Leinster's XV before emerging to play a starring role in Ireland's third Grand Slam success.

And, while he may be the poster boy for ageing gracefully - and gratefully - the positively youthful figure of Fergus McFadden (31) also retains his fierce desire for his career to bask in the spotlight, not the twilight.

More than a year ago, social media unfurled its predictable measure of outrage when Joe Schmidt selected him for the Six Nations squad and even a few amongst the fourth estate were sceptical of the coach's decision.

For example, the first page of a google search of his name produces an online sports website which screams, with capital-lettered self-justification, a searching question. "Surely It's Time To Start Considering Someone Other Than Fergus McFadden?"

"Sure I have ignored you for years..." says the Kildare man, who bridged a two-year Test gap when arriving to help close out the famous February win in Paris, forming an important link during that unforgettable 41-phase sequence prior to 'Le Drop' that launched the Grand Slam.

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A fitful late cameo as Wales threatened to thunder to victory in Dublin did, however, underline just how perilous his position remains a little less than 18 months away from the World Cup, a stage which he might feel would be a fitting swansong for his international career.

"It would be an ambition for every player in Ireland to try and push to get on that plane and be there," says McFadden, capped 34 times since his 2011 debut against Italy but who, after appearing against Russia in 2011, missed out altogether last time out.

"It is a long way away. Last season I wasn't in the Six Nations squad. I had an injury-plagued season and I came back for the last week of it just to be involved in the training.

"This year, it was the opposite. I went in at the start with the Six Nations squad, got a bit of game-time. Of course I would have wanted more.

"I went in there probably knowing I was down the pecking order a little bit and would have to train well, and with a rub of the green get in there, and I did.

"I probably wouldn't have got as much game-time as I would have liked, but I was happy to be involved in a group that created history, so I take the positives."

Chiefly, his strength of character.

"I'd like to think that resilience is probably one of my stronger qualities over my career," he explains.

"Coming back even for the Champions Cup game against Wasps last year, I got an opportunity off the bench, played well enough - that's enough to justify the tough days that go with it for me.

"Sometimes when you get knocked down, it's about how you react when you come back."

And McFadden can still apply some telling blows of his own; after all, this is the man whose wondrous step in the RDS sent Jacob Stockdale reeling as if reeling from a tasty upper cut.

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