McFadden speaking at Leinster HQ in UCD yesterday. Ben Whitley/INPHO
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'I'm a Leinster player': McFadden keen to remain a one-club man as contract talks commence

The 31-year-old winger hopes to extend his stay with his home province but knows the years are running out.

OUT OF CONTRACT at the end of the season, Fergus McFadden is currently in talks with Leinster over his future but the winger has not ruled out the possibility of leaving his home province.

At 31, McFadden finds himself hurtling towards the twilight stage of a professional career which has spanned over a decade but the ongoing negotiations with Leinster are significant in the sense that they will determine how the rest of it plays out.

There is no doubt he wants to remain at the eastern province and see his career out as a one club man, but in the same breath McFadden knows the years are running out and regular game time somewhere else may be more important than staying put for the sake of remaining loyal to Leinster.

“I’d love to be [a one club man]. But, we will see what happens,” he says. “At the moment, we’re talking. I’m hoping things will get sorted.”

McFadden was rested for the St Stephen’s Day victory over Munster and watched on from home as the next generation, including Jordan Larmour and Barry Daly, underlined the scarcely believable strength in depth which exists at Leinster with assured, mature and imposing performances.

The 32-time capped Ireland international has started just five games this season, two of which were in the back-to-back wins over Exeter Chiefs, and over the course of the last four-and-a-half years has averaged just 14 appearances per campaign.

Injuries certainly haven’t helped but given his age profile and the plethora of options –Daly, Larmour, Adam Byrne, Dave Kearney, James Lowe — available to Leo Cullen, the prospect of McFadden increasing his game time even under renewed terms is unlikely over the coming seasons.

“When you are coming towards the twilight of your career, you want to play every week because you have less and less time to play and win,” he continues.

“It is getting a nice balance. I think older guys are managed nicely as well at Leinster. That is another thing.

“We are playing a great brand at the moment as well. Some of the tries that we scored down in Thomond would be a good advertisement for that as were the tries against Exeter.

“Obviously, you want to get game time. The competition is huge. You can’t expect to start every week.”

What about following Jordi Murphy and heading north?

“Jordi has made the move up there and that makes sense for him. He was a player you looked at from Tuesday, who was outstanding as well. There is just a backlog in that area [back-row].

Fergus McFadden Ben Whitley / INPHO Ben Whitley / INPHO / INPHO

“At the moment, I’m a Leinster player. I have been my whole career and, hopefully, will be going forward.”

Leinster are also keen to retain a player of McFadden’s calibre and experience as the senior members of the squad — those guys who have been there and done it all before — can impart knowledge on the Larmours and Carberys as they develop their own games. It creates that culture within the set-up where players feed and learn off each other.

In that regard, and described as a ‘massive asset’ to the club by backs coach Girvan Dempsey, McFadden remains a hugely valued of the squad and is widely acknowledged as the best trainer and most competitive figure.

Since making his senior debut against Cardiff in September 2007, the Kilkenny native has made 160 appearances for Leinster to date and was part of the 2009, 2011 and 2012 Heineken Cup winning squads.

“That fight has been one of my strengths throughout my career,” he says of the competitive edge he possesses.

McFadden will need every bit of it during the second half of the season as Leinster mount a two-pronged title challenge in both the Pro14 and Champions Cup having reached the halfway mark in good shape.

Already comparisons are being made with this time last year when Leinster found themselves in a similar position but were unable to kick on and convert promising positions into silverware as they fell at the semi-final stage in both competitions.

“We won the back-to-back games last year against Northampton and then you run into one of the toughest games of the season for lots of reasons — Christmas time, down in Thomond Park and you’re after coming off the back-to-back games.

“We lost that game and this year we went down and performed very well and beat them [Munster] well with a fully changed team. You look at that and think we must be in a better place but you can’t judge where we’re going to be until we’re getting to that April period when you’re looking to start peaking.

“Last year hurt a lot with that semi against Clermont and that semi against Scarlets, they’re, in my opinion, medals that got away. We’re going to make sure that that’s not going to happen to us again this year.”

But are there similarities with this team and the sides that won back-to-back European crowns?

McFadden continues: “I think it’s hard to compare them, even back then the squad probably wasn’t as deep as it is now, there’s a lot more strength in depth. The production of younger talent, there’s a new wave coming through that’s a lot more than there was when it was the likes of me, Sean O’Brien, Johnny Sexton, Cian Healy — we came through together, but over the past two years there’s been 15 lads who have stepped up and can be put in for the biggest games in Europe, so it’s hard to compare, but competition for places is at an all time high and that’s a good thing.

Fergus McFadden Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“A prime example is Ross Byrne. He started in that game last year down in Thomond and I thought he was close to man of the match the last day [on Tuesday] so his growth as a half-back at his age is huge. When Johnny is out, people think what are Leinster going to do but Ross stepped in for that home Exeter game and controlled things really well there again.

“There are younger lads, Luke McGrath, who have grown hugely with a few short fallings from last year. The learnings have been huge.”

For now, however, the focus for McFadden is on getting into Cullen’s plans for the New Year’s Day inter-pro against Connacht at the RDS, with the Leinster head coach expected to shuffle his pack again as part of squad rotation at this juncture of the season.

“Team hasn’t been selected yet but hoping to be playing,” he says.

Even with the added competition, McFadden is enjoying his rugby at the moment.

Cullen turned to him for the round three and four games against Exeter as part of an experienced back three and earlier this month the wing was involved in the two-day national camp at Carton House.

“Nice to know he hasn’t fully forgotten about me,” McFadden says of his inclusion in Joe Schmidt’s extended panel. “I had a bit of a spike back up to the level of form I was happy with in those back-to-back European matches and for the two games before that.

“Just getting through a five-game period without injury which I’ve struggled to put together over the past year. The body is still feeling great and it was nice to get that bit of kudos but for the moment it’s just about staying in the first XV at Leinster for me.”

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