Friday 20 April 2018

Sinead Kissane: Ian Madigan can come of age if he focuses on management

Ian Madigan, Ireland Wolfhounds
Ian Madigan, Ireland Wolfhounds
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

It will be Ian Madigan's 26th birthday on the final day of the Six Nations. You know the drill for pieces like this: the writer uses a nauseating cliche about the player "coming of age".

But that won't work here. Because right now, it's all about the final weeks of Madigan's 26th year. Or more specifically, it's all about today week at the Stadio Olimpico.

For the purpose of this article, we're going to take it that Madigan's international experience over Ian Keatley will see him start at 10 against Italy.

It will be the first big game Johnny Sexton will miss for Ireland under Joe Schmidt (he started all the Six Nations games last season plus November Tests against New Zealand, South Africa and Australia (twice).

Madigan started at out-half against Georgia, plus he helped close out that nail-biter against France in the Six Nations finale when he replaced a concussed Sexton in the 68th minute.

We all know the special relationship that Schmidt and Sexton have; Brian O'Driscoll summed it up nicely when he joked recently that when the Leinster play-sheets were signed off with the initials 'JS', he used to wonder if the initials belonged to Schmidt or Sexton.

What about Schmidt's relationship with Madigan? The day before Schmidt was named Sports Manager of the Year just before Christmas, I asked Madigan about the Ireland head coach's influence on him.

"He was the first coach to really get his hands on me," Madigan explained about Schmidt's time at Leinster. "His persistence to demand the basic excellence from you is second to none."

That's the kind of respect we've come to expect when players talk about Schmidt. What was interesting was when Madigan added: "He doesn't let you away with anything. It's certainly good for me to work with somebody like that. There are times when I want to give him some backchat but I have to bite my tongue because I know he's right 99pc of the time."

(I seriously slipped up in not asking Madigan about the 1pc where he believed Schmidt was wrong!)

So Madigan has his own views, wants to challenge and be challenged - which are exactly the kind of basics you want in a top class fly-half. Madigan thrived under Schmidt at Leinster. One of his best games came at Wasps in the 2013 Challenge Cup quarter-final. He ruled with a total of 28 points and gave oxygen to talk that he could make it as a bolter for the Lions squad that summer.

The Lions spin-off didn't happen. But Schmidt made a big call for the Six Nations game against France the following year when he selected Madigan among the replacements for the first time in last season's Championship, ahead of Paddy Jackson.

Confidence

As the press conference wrapped up that Thursday before the squad flew to Paris, Schmidt was questioned about Madigan's confidence in coming off the bench.

You would have forgiven Schmidt for doing a double take; a question about Madigan's confidence isn't one he's had to answer too often. He said he had no concerns about it and he was right.

Equally, Schmidt doesn't give preferential treatment to Madigan. Two months after the Six Nations success, Schmidt put Madigan into the Emerging Ireland squad to tour Romania rather than the Ireland squad for Argentina.

Later, with Jackson injured, Madigan was promoted to the main squad. That time must have made for an interesting mood-board.

The words 'mercurial' and 'maverick' are easy alliteration which slide off the back of Madigan's name whenever he does something sensational.

But Madigan won't need any of those 'M & M' adjectives against Italy. This will be about that other 'M' word - management.

Because while other less experienced Ireland players can slot into the system that Schmidt creates, it will be Madigan who must run this town in Rome.

It's nothing he hasn't done before. But in this, his first Six Nations start, it will be about doing the basics well.

I wonder how it would go down with Schmidt if Madigan did what he did to Ulster against Italy - when he looked like he was about to kick for the corner but instead a quick tap-and-go resulted in him bundling over the try-line. Sensational but unexpected to everyone.

Opportunism can also come with a risk warning.

Which, in simplified terms, could go against the well-organised, uber-smart and controlled strategy Ireland have excelled at under Schmidt.

What Madigan will be is incredibly well-drilled. And like Sexton, he will probably have Schmidt's voice in his head while he's playing.

I asked Schmidt about that recently - he laughed before adding that "they (the players) might have me as a conscience but I'd like to think that conscience is pretty positive".

So let's re-phrase that: Madigan will have Schmidt as his conscience. The 25-year-old also said recently that he doesn't view other out-halves as his competition. "I always view myself as my main competition," Madigan stated.

Win the battle with himself and this really could be the Six Nations when Madigan comes of age.

Leamy stat brings back mixed memories

Work emails I love the most: the ones from people who have done the hard work so you don't have to.

This week that email came courtesy of the Six Nations and their official technology partner Accenture with a list of various statistical analysis.

One headline was 'Serial Offender'. And as a number of possible candidates for this ran through my mind, there was the name of Malcolm O'Kelly. Described as "the player who got on the wrong side of the referee the most", the former Ireland lock conceded the most penalties in the Six Nations, with 54 over the 37 Championship games he played.

We were also reminded that against Italy in 2003 he stole six, yes six, of Carlo Festuccia's lineout throws. He's the second best turnover winner with 32.

Denis Leamy has the record for the most ball carries in a game with an incredible 30 against France in 2006. When you consider that no-one since has racked up even 27 in the one game it puts Leamy's performance into perspective.

But then again, that game was a lesson in kamikaze-ness in Paris.

Remember, France thrashed Ireland in the first half, and damage limitation turned into a raft of tries for Ireland in the second half as France held on 43-31.

Ah, bring on the Six Nations.

No love lost on Valentine's Day for fixture scheduling

Saturday, February 14 is a stand-out date, with Ireland playing France at the Aviva Stadium.

It's obviously not just for the die-hard rugby fans - a lot of people would have an interest in watching this.

But the fact that one of the biggest games in Irish sport in 2015 is taking place in Dublin 4 didn't stop the GAA from deciding to put the biggest date in the All-Ireland Intermediate Club Football Championship on at Croker at the same time.

My home club Ardfert play Roscommon club St Croan's in the intermediate final with a 4.45pm throw-in.

Fifteen minutes later Ireland start against France over in Lansdowne.

Was there any consideration given to fans who might want to see both? The game at Croke Park forms part of a double header with the Junior final also on, but surely the timings could have been scheduled better?

It seems I will just have to make do with one ear listening to referee Wayne Barnes on the ref-link and the other ear listening to Radio Kerry commentator Weeshie Fogarty on the Ardfert game. That will be some mix.

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