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04th Dec 2014

Analysis: Virtuoso Ian Madigan truly is Leinster’s heartbeat this season

Patrick McCarry

The 25-year-old has bounced from jerseys 10, 12 and 15 this season

Matt O’Connor delivered a fitness boost for Leinster supporters when declaring Ian Madigan fit to face Harlequins on Sunday. The Australian then went on to speak about the Dubliner in the most glowing terms and suggested he is keeping Leinster’s season ticking.

‘I’ve never criticised Ian’s performances as a footballer,’ O’Connor began. ‘He has been unbelievable for us in a number of positions this year. Whenever he has played he at 12 he has been fantastic, at 10, and he sticks his hand up for 15. If you picked him in the front row I’m sure he would (play there), the little bugger.

‘He kicks goals, he re-starts for us. He has been the heartbeat of the team. He has been fantastic this season.’

Madigan played inside centre for the first three games of the season with Leinster after Noel Reid was injured in the first minute of the season opener against Glasgow Warriors. He played fullback against Munster and Wasps, out-half against Zebre and was back in the 12 jersey for recent wins over Castres and Ospreys. Add to that a start and sub’s appearance as out-half for Ireland and covering inside centre against Australia when Gordon D’Arcy went off injured and you have a varied season.

Madigan has, in past seasons, mixed the sublime with the downright crazy. His own team-mates have often appeared unaware of what he will do next. For every skip pass and clever inside line their is an arcing tracer that is plucked off or grubber from his own 22. Those errors have been cut out to a large extent this season while the attack spark has remained. He scored two fine tries against Scarlets but this assist – he is first receiver from Gopperth’s pass – for a Rob Kearney try sums up his ingenuity.

Aside from his impressive kicking statistics – 36 successful from 41 attempts – this season, Madigan’s main threat is his smart running lines ability to target weak shoulders. This was demonstrated perfectly when he jammed inside James McKinney and past Jared Payne to score the winning try for Leinster against Ulster in last year’s Pro12 semi-final.

O’Connor was asked if, given Jimmy Gopperth’s indifferent season to date, if Madigan could start at 10 against Quins. The coach responded, ‘There’s always a chance… always a chance.’ He added, ‘That depends on the options. There a lot of things that go into a performance. From that end, you like to give guys the opportunity to play their way out of it.’

Gopperth has not reached the heights he scaled last season but O’Connor is expected to go with the New Zealander and Eoin Reddan as his half-backs at The Stoop. Fergus McFadden’s thumb injury rules him out of the Irish midfield for the remainder of the year. O’Connor should move Gordon D’Arcy to outside centre and team him with Madigan.

Ian Madigan kicks a penalty 29/11/2014

Madigan has added some vim to his passing and has really improved on his defence. He was found wanting in cruel manner in the final moments of Ireland’s crushing defeat to New Zealand when, appearing off the bench, he did not appear to trust Sean O’Brien to tackle his man. He was drawn towards the ball and left Ryan Crotty unmarked on the wing to score.

Speaking post-match, O’Brien declared, ‘I think it’s time lads grew up and know what’s expected when they put on an Irish jersey.’ The flanker did not single his Leinster colleague out but he got the message regardless.

Analysis Madigan 1

His only blemish this season has seen him burned on the outside by Wasps’ Christian Wade at the RDS although he will not be the last player to fall afoul of the English winger’s pace. Otherwise, he has been solid in whatever role he has been tasked with. He dropped back to shadow/cover Zane Kirchner in the away game over Castres, increased his tackle count and even thrown himself into rucks. This was seen in the final minute of Ireland’s win over Australia as he teamed up with Tommy Bowe to turn-over Adam Ashley Cooper.

Madigan’s pumped reaction when referee Glen Jackson blew for an Irish penalty – and that of Leinster team-mate Jamie Heaslip – demonstrates what the turnover meant. Madigan has grown up a lot over the past 12 months and, even if Sexton returns, should be signed up by the province, and IRFU, on a long-term deal.

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