"My heart is at Leinster"
Fergus McFadden opens up to Vicki Notaro about the game he loves, the lifestyle of a professional rugby player, and the unusual instrument he's taken up
On the Ireland squad and indeed with Leinster, Fergus McFadden has always been a solid, steady player. Perhaps not as high profile as some others, and certainly not as flashy, he's been working quietly as an intricate part of two well oiled machines. When we meet in Dublin's Metro Café, he's as I expected, a genial and mellow guy. Straight away though, I realise there's determination behind his affable character. And it's clear just how much he loves the game of rugby.
"It's great to be back in the Ireland squad after not making it for the World Cup," he tells me when I enquire about his work. "It was tough to watch the lads over there, so it's great to be back in a winning team, getting a good game and having a bit of positive involvement like getting a try against Italy."
"It was a bit of mixed bag during the Six Nations; with bench players, you're also juggling your provincial duties. I enjoyed the time I had back with Leinster, but it's challenging for the squad with so many guys away on international duty. Playing for your country is definitely the pinnacle, but Leinster is so close to my heart because I was born in Kildare and grew up supporting the team from when I first knew anything about sport! To line out in the RDS is amazing, but you can't beat playing for Ireland."
Lined up to stay with his home province for the foreseeable, I enquire as to whether he has any dreams of playing abroad like some of his Ireland team mates. "I hope I stay with Leinster. It's one of the best clubs in Europe, so to stay in the team and keep playing regularly, you need to be extremely good. As long as I can keep performing there, I'm signed on for another couple of years. In a dream world, I'd love to finish my career there; my heart is at Leinster. But you never rule out the temptation to go elsewhere."
Will he miss team mate and friend Ian Madigan when he heads to France in the autumn? "Oh yeah, I will miss Ian. He's a couple of years younger than me but he kind of broke in to Leinster the year after me, he was in the academy below me. We've gone up through the system together. He's a great guy, and I'll miss him around the club, we all will. I'll definitely miss him off the pitch too, he's great craic. Hopefully he'll have a spare bed for me in Bordeaux so I can go and visit!"
I point out that the money in French rugby is a big reason a lot of players might be tempted over. "It definitely wasn't money that lured Ian over; I know that for a fact because I talked to him at length about it and he's not the kind of guy that would go somewhere for money. I think it's for the betterment of his rugby career. He needs to be playing every week in his favourite position which is number 10, and hopefully he'll get to do that in Bordeaux. But look, I'm under no illusions about the money side of things, because your rugby career doesn't go on forever, so guys need to take care of themselves. When it ends, you need to be in a position where you're financially in a place to go in to something else. The amount of money that's in the English soccer Premier League, and the French rugby game is huge. You can see guys moving around for money, but the great thing about Leinster is that it's in guys' blood and their make up. There aren't many teams around where the backbone is actually from the area and good enough to be playing for it too, so we're privileged to be able to do that."
Like so many others, Fergus is well aware of the rugby bubble and the fact that one bad injury could mean your career is over any day. With that in mind, he's recently completed a diploma in Business at Griffith College, something he wants to build on.
"It's about educating yourself and equipping yourself outside of the game, so if worst came to worst and your career ended prematurely, you'd be in a position to go and get a job somewhere, and that's what I'm trying to do at the moment. Griffith went out of their way for a few of us that have been studying there - myself, Sean O'Brien and Sean Cronin were there for the last couple of years. They helped me massively, because I wasn't able to do the course full time and managed the semesters really well, not overloading the work but still getting through it. I'd love to do something else at the beginning of next year on top of that."
As of yet though, Fergus has yet to venture in to the business world like so many of his teammates. "No, I've no side projects at the moment. Fair play to the lads that are also juggling businesses. To get in to something like the restaurant or pub business, it's so competitive in Dublin these days but The Bridge 1859 (a pub in Ballsbridge owned by several Leinster players) is flying, I'm delighted for them. That business does appeal to me, but no, nothing going on yet."
He doesn't have a lot of spare time, but Fergus isn't one to sit idle. Since he finished his college course, he's taken up a rather unusual musical instrument - the banjo. "I'd been looking to take something up because I have a bit of idle time in the evenings, so I've been getting lessons. I like the diddly-idle stuff, and I always thought it was a cool instrument. It's really enjoyable!" Is he all set to get down to a trad session in a country pub? "No, I'm not that good yet. I just like practicing on my own for the moment at home, but if it gets to the point that I can bring it out with a few friends, that'd be great."
As an ambassador for Druid's Glen resort, he's also a keen golfer, and he likes to wind down by watching box sets with his girlfriend Rebecca Sinnamon and their new dog. "My girlfriend bought a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel about five months ago, but I've always been a dog lover so I didn't put up too much of a fight! When I'm windng down, I like to watch House of Cards, stuff like that."
A self-confessed foodie, he also likes to treat himself now and then. "Dublin is one of the best cities around at the moment restaurant wise, the standard is incredible. There are a couple of spots I love, like the Butcher's Grill in Ranelagh for a treat once in a while. I love sushi in Yamamori. I cook the majority of the time, because you need to be wary that eating out is not as healthy as what you make yourself and we're encouraged to cook at home."
I ask if he gets to go out on the town much. "The team got to have a few drinks together after the Scotland game in the Shelbourne, but it wouldn't be a big part of our lives any more. I'm sure in the old days it was a bit different, they'd be out drinking a bit more. But these days you have to look after yourself. The margins are so small in the sport, that if you're going to be going out every weekend, it's not going to bode well for your body and the shape you're in. You pick and choose your times. I love going out and meeting friends because it's good for switching off; if it's all about the rugby it can consume you a bit too much.
"Some of my best friends are in the rugby circle, but I still meet the lads I went to school with. There are four or five of us, and the great thing about them is that while they're really supportive, they don't follow the game that closely. So when I'm with them, the last thing we talk about is rugby!"
As a seasoned player, I wonder if he still gets the same buzz from the game he used to. "I sometimes often think about that you know, and when I'm training and playing, I do still feel the exact same way I did when I was 13, 16… I absolutely love it. There's big pressure playing professionally to perform, particularly with a big team like Leinster. Fans want to see you playing good rugby and winning. But you're out there with your best mates and doing what you love, you can't beat it."