Saturday 16 December 2017

Rookie McFadden happy to wing it for club and country

David Kelly

David Kelly

ONLY five minutes in the place and already he's calling the shots.

To be fair, Ireland's newest debutant -- the country's 1,031st international -- is merely explaining how the life of the modern wing has changed; from splendid isolation on the touchline in past times to an all-round contributor to every facet of the three-quarter line.

"I think Brian could play on the wing as well," offers Fergus McFadden. At which point, said Brian (O'Driscoll) visually grimaces and grabs his Leinster colleague's knee with a clenched fist.

No, nerves won't affect the Curragh-born flyer on his Ireland debut this Saturday. His point about wing-play is ironic; after seasons being stuck in a midfield queue behind the Ireland captain and a certain Gordon D'Arcy, a simple shift in perception has propelled McFadden into the spotlight with the No 11 on his back.

Joe Schmidt's arrival has swept a number of old Leinster certainties away in the wash-up; Mike Ross is one beneficiary this weekend, so too McFadden, who admittedly benefited from a bit of luck.

November injuries to Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney prompted Schmidt to scan his panel for a willing participant to occupy a left-wing vacancy; he liked the cut of McFadden's jib.

As the looming figure of Clermont's Napolioni Nalaga, all 6' 3" and 220lbs of him, loomed large on the Heineken Cup horizon, McFadden (right) was chosen to fill the breach.

He did that and more. McFadden was conceding some 10 kilos and two inches to the intimidating Fijian -- but the Old Belvedere graduate won the battle.

Kidney would have noted McFadden's heft with interest; in October, he could also not have failed to notice the speed with which the then substitute winger decorated Leinster's trouncing of Racing Metro in the RDS.

Little wonder he affirms that "if I get the opposition one-on-one this weekend, I'd like to think that I could back myself."

McFadden first announced himself at Ireland's post-Grand Slam Churchill Cup success in summer 2009 when declared Player of the Tournament; the graduation has been at times tortuous, as acknowledged by his captain.

"You're always aware of the younger guys in the Academy who show potential and are tipping away, then you see their talent in training. After 2009, he's really stepped it up.

"I think Joe's thinking is that he wants to get the best attacking players on the pitch, even if out of position," said O'Driscoll.

It marks quite a transformation for McFadden. Only a few months back, he was publicly ruminating upon the fact that he would soon have to decide whether he had a future at Leinster at all. The last person to express similarly grave doubts was a certain Jonny Sexton. And look at him now.

"I'd always back myself to get into the team eventually," he reveals. "But with Gordon and Brian there, it's such a strong partnership, but thankfully I got a chance.

"Sure, there was a period probably at the start of last year when you're asking 'does my future lie in Leinster?' But my heart has always been there. Now I've signed a two-year deal and I'm really pleased I did."

Now McFadden belongs. And he believes he belongs. After waiting in the wings for so long, he will not allow complacency to become his foe. He wants to go to the World Cup too. Even if he may not yet shunt O'Driscoll out to the wing.

"I think he was genuinely being kind," smiles O'Driscoll of the new kid on the block. "Maybe I could have played there 10 years ago!"

As one international career enters its dotage -- this will be O'Driscoll's 12th successive championship -- another one takes its fledgling steps. McFadden will be centre stage in all but name.

Irish Independent

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