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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019
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McFadden focused on leaving injury woes behind him to kick on for Leinster

The 32-year-old has endured a difficult 12 months with hamstring trouble but is fit and ready to get back into Leo Cullen’s team.

WHEN YOU LOOK back, Fergus McFadden has endured so many setbacks throughout his career, yet despite all the injuries and games missed, he is still here at 32 and as hungry as ever to fight for his place on the Leinster wing.

McFadden, as is his wont, has always absorbed the outrageously bad injury luck he has experienced down through the years, no more so than at the end of last season when he was forced to sit out both the Champions Cup and Pro14 finals.

Fergus McFadden McFadden pictured at UCD this week. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Before suffering a hamstring injury in the act of scoring a try in the European semi-final win over Scarlets at the Aviva Stadium, McFadden had enjoyed his best season in five years, starting 13 games — and an ever-present in the big games — despite the emergence of Jordan Larmour and the try-scoring exploits of James Lowe.

He had also ended a two-year absence from Joe Schmidt’s international plans during Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning campaign, coming off the bench in the wins over France and Wales to bring his tally of caps up to 34. And then injury struck.

McFadden was at the heart of the celebrations in Bilbao and Dublin as Leinster claimed a historic double, and certainly he had played a big part for Leo Cullen’s side, but it was cruel for him — after the season he’d had — that he was in a suit rather than out there.

Having worked hard over summer and pre-season to get back to fitness, the Kildare native featured in Leinster’s early-season fixtures, starting in the October inter-pro against Munster, but another setback was only around the corner. Another hamstring injury, another four months out.

“Last season’s injury was disappointing because I missed the finals but in general, I had a pretty injury-free year really so I kind of looked at it with a bit of perspective, as it had been quite a good season for me,” McFadden tells The42.

The injury I picked up this season, the timing of it wasn’t great because it was in the middle of the season, in the main body of the European games. That was frustrating.

Again, McFadden had to pick himself up and go again. Gym work, rehab, at arm’s length from team affairs, and without the substance of matches. In January, he posted a video of himself running again on UCD’s all-weather pitch. It was a slow process and steady progress which demanded patience and perseverance. They’re qualities he has had to develop throughout his career.

After hitting all his comeback markers, McFadden returned to action for Leinster during the Six Nations period, starting the home wins over the Kings and Cheetahs to build up his match minutes again.

“I’ve been integrated with the boys and training for about a month and a half now so getting those two games under my belt was definitely nice,” he continues. “Hopefully, I’ll get a bit more game time this week [against Edinburgh] leading into a massive block for the club.”

While the two-week break has forced McFadden to wait for another opportunity to play again, he has been able to sharpen his fitness in training ahead of Friday’s Pro14 trip to Murrayfield, where he is set to start.

With the Champions Cup quarter-final against Ulster around the corner and Leinster now entering the business end of the season, the winger wants to put himself in the best position to be selected for the big days after missing some memorable occasions in 2018.

“My target this week is just to play and play well,” he says. “I’m not really looking too far beyond that. Obviously, I want to get back in the team for the big matches, it’s finals rugby for us now. I just need to get my form right to try and break back into the team.

Fergus McFadden The 32-year-old made his injury comeback against the Kings. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I’ve got to stay fit, train very well and the opportunities I do get, play well to try and get back in there.”

The competition for places in Leinster’s back three is as fierce as ever. Rob Kearney and Larmour will be back from Ireland duty, Joe Tomane is also fit again and the form of Lowe, Adam Byrne, Barry Daly and Dave Kearney leaves Cullen with plenty of options.

McFadden knows he needs to hit peak form again to stand a chance of selection as the weeks progress, but his contributions last season give him confidence that he can get back to that point again.

“I’d like to think so. The strength in depth, we’ve got three, four guys in each position who can all step up and do a similar job which is fantastic for the club. But it provides a lot more pressure on individuals to train and play well with every opportunity given.

“I certainly think I can contribute, I mean last year I’d like to think I did and hopefully, I can pick up from there for the big games now.

From last year to this year, I’m hoping it can be a bit of a flip really. Last year I was fit and got injured for the finals, this year I’ve been injured for the main body of the season but please God, I can stay fit and be involved for those finals if we can get to them.

Out of contract at the end of the season, McFadden — who is in his 12th season with his home province — says he has not made a decision on his future, given his primary focus at the minute is playing rugby again after a couple of frustrating lay-offs.

“I’m born and bred in Leinster, I was born here, grew up here and supported the team from a young age,” he adds. “It would be great to play here until the end of my career but that hasn’t been fully decided yet. This is the last year of my contract so I’ll see what happens over the next few weeks.” 

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Ryan Bailey

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