"It was a serious boost for Andy Farrell to give me a bit of a shout-out" - Ian Madigan
"It was a serious boost for Andy Farrell to give me a bit of a shout-out."
Ian Madigan is now 31. How did that happen?
Perhaps it is because the pain of that 2015 World Cup defeat is so raw. It still feels like it happened recently enough.
Since that World Cup quarter final, which saw Madigan starting at outhalf for Ireland, the Dubliner played another season for Leinster, made five more Test outings, moved to Bordeaux, played a season of English Championship rugby and then the bulk of two more Premiership campaigns with Bristol.
Madigan's return to Ireland comes via Ulster and was announced just before the 2019/20 season was put on pause due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He did not get a proper goodbye at Pat Lam's Bristol but focus has now shifted to his new team's pursuit of trophies on two fronts.
Madigan will be hoping to make his Ulster debut against Connacht, at the Aviva Stadium, on August 23. The northern province will be without captain Iain Henderson and versatile Will Addison for the remainder of the Guinness PRO14 season but are in otherwise good shape. A win over Connacht will secure a PRO14 semi-final and they also have a Champions Cup quarter final to look forward to.
For Madigan, he is hoping to slot in however Ulster coach Dan McFarland needs him and gradually make himself a key cog in the wheel. After that, a return from the Test wilderness is on his agenda.
"It was a serious boost for Andy Farrell to give me a bit of a shout-out," says Madigan, in reference to an interview the Ireland head coach gave to select media members last week. "Especially considering that I haven't played a whole lot in the last 12 months.
"For me, personally, coming back and being able to play for one of the Irish provinces and having playing for Ireland as one of my main goals, it's really focused me with my training and given me something to aim at.
"But I'm under no illusions that I've got to really prove myself. That's starts here, with Ulster. They've some good quality guys here in Billy Burns and Bill Johnston, and even Mike Lowry, who plays 10 and 15. It starts here in Ulster and working my way into the 23. If that means coming off the bench and playing well in games, and then being patient to get a start and then playing well... it kind of goes from there."
Madigan believes that staking a claim in a starting provincial XV and making a mark in league and European action would be the best way to force himself into the Ireland conversation yet acknowledges 'there's a lot of rugby to be played on my part for that to happen'. He adds:
"It's something that really excites me. My number one goal is still to play for Ireland and that's where I'm at."
Madigan was injured for a sizeable portion of his final season at Bristol and says he has used the lockdown and easing back periods as an opportunity to physically and mentally improve. "I feel I'm in the best physical condition that I've ever been," he declares.
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