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'Would I be able to play for Munster? It would be really tough' - Madigan

The Leinster and Ireland out-half outlines the thinking behind joining Bordeaux next season.

CLEARLY, IAN MADIGAN needed to get out of Leinster if he had ambitions of being a first-choice out-half.

Johnny Sexton’s return to the province on a four-year IRFU contract last summer ensured as much.

And so it has transpired that the 27-year-old will join Top 14 outfit Bordeaux ahead of next season. A two-year deal in the southwestern French city will see Madigan playing for an ambitious club who have shown consistent progress in recent times.

[image alt="Ian Madigan" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2016/04/ian-madigan-96-630x424.jpg" width="630" height="424" class="alignnone" /end]

The shame for Irish rugby is that Madigan’s move out of Leinster could not have brought him to another of the provinces. The IRFU were eager to keep the playmaker on these shores, with Joe Schmidt stressing as much explicitly to Madigan.

Indeed, with Munster in need of a high-quality 10, the IRFU were hopeful that the Dubliner would make a switch south next season.

“To be honest, I wouldn’t say that there was an opportunity to not go anywhere in Ireland or to go anywhere in Ireland,” says Madigan when asked if he had a chance to switch provinces.

“The option that presented itself in Bordeaux was one that came up early on and one that I was committed to from an early stage. So the other options in Ireland never really got to a stage where they were viable for me because I was so far down the line with Bordeaux.”

IRFU performance director David Nucifora has spoken a number of times of his desire to see interprovincial transfers occur more often, with the aim of ensuring that there is no “stockpiling” of talent in one position in any one province.

Naturally enough, there has been individual resistance to the idea, with Madigan perhaps providing a case in point.

The lure of Bordeaux – in terms of their coaching staff, tactical approach, financial clout, and lifestyle factors – is obviously a key point here, but recent cases like Madigan’s and Marty Moore’s perhaps underline that the idea of shifting provinces remains hard to fathom for Irish players.

How difficult would Madigan have found it to make the switch?

“Look, there’s such quality in the other provinces,” says the Blackrock man. “You know, Munster are going through a small slump at the moment but to play for a club like that, with the history they have, would be incredible.

“But would I be able to do it? I’ve grown up in Leinster, all my family support Leinster, all my friends support Leinster; it would be really tough.

[image alt="Ian Madigan kicks a penalty" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2016/04/ian-madigan-kicks-a-penalty-23-630x421.jpg" width="630" height="421" class="alignnone" /end]

“The parishonal sense that you have in playing for Leinster or playing for Munster is a pretty special thing in Ireland.

“While it’s important that some players are going to have to move to get game time, it’s something that we want to protect.

“Similarly, when you see the quality brand of rugby that Connacht are playing at the moment and you look at that and I’d say to myself, ‘Jesus, it would be brilliant to be part of that side as well.’

“It’s definitely something that I would have thought of, but it never really came to fruition. The Bordeaux opportunity presented itself at an early stage. I knew it was a great opportunity because of the coaching staff that they have there, the quality players that they have, and it was just a challenge that I felt I ready for.

“It certainly wasn’t a case of turning down Irish provinces or not talking to them.”

Madigan has always had a strong relationship with Schmidt, from the beginning of their time working together at Leinster, through to the Six Nations successes they shared.

The Kiwi has been a major influence on Madigan and has retained faith in the Leinster man even when there have been demands for Ulster’s Paddy Jackson to be installed as Ireland’s back-up out-half behind Sexton.

Schmidt did his level best to ensure Madigan remained in Ireland.

“The conversation I had with Joe, he made it clear to me that he wants me to stay in Ireland and ultimately it’s where we want Irish players playing,” says Madigan.

“The IRFU have access to you, they can manage you, you’re not overplayed, the fantastic medical facilities we have here, if you want to have mini-camps or if there’s games outside the international window, they’ve got full control over that.

“That’s very important, and if I was starting for Leinster, there’s no way I’d move.

[image alt="Ian Madigan" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2016/04/ian-madigan-97-630x413.jpg" width="630" height="413" class="alignnone" /end]

“I didn’t want to move, but you’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt and ultimately for me I felt that moving was the right option to improve as a player, so I can be as good as I can be if I get the opportunity to play for Ireland.”

Though Madigan says moving to Bordeaux is not just about rugby, saying he is looking at “the bigger picture” in terms of lifestyle too, he stresses that shifting his life to France is all about ensuring he can challenge for an Ireland place.

Nucifora has suggested that Madigan will be at a “disadvantage” to other Ireland players who remain at home, which would suggest that Ulster’s Jackson will shift above him in the pecking order.

Intriguingly, Madigan says he has looked at Jackson’s status as clear first-choice in Ulster with a thirst to have the same role.

“Am I envious of that? Do I want to be that guy in a club? The answer is yes,” says Madigan. “A big part of the reason why I’m moving to Bordeaux is because I’m not currently that guy at the club I’m in at the moment.

“That was a big factor in my decision; to be a player where you’re making big decisions in a club. Leinster are very lucky that they have someone of the calibre of Johnny Sexton there doing that at the moment.

“It’s hard to have your first-choice 10 and your second-choice 10 doing that. As much as I buy into Leinster and do my best to work with other players and other clubs, it’s hard to do that.

“I don’t think I’d be able to look at myself in the mirror and not have challenged myself to be that first-choice out-half in a club when my career ended.”

Bordeaux currently sit seventh in the Top 14 and therefore find themselves outside the Champions Cup qualification places with five regular season games remaining. Naturally, Madigan will be watching on anxiously to see if Raphaël Ibañez’s men can seal their spot.

“They are in a scrap with Castres and Toulouse at the moment,” says Madigan. “The way the Top 14 is, there are a lot of tough games. A lot of the games are decided by five points, seven points.

[image alt="Jonathan Sexton and Ian Madigan" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2016/04/jonathan-sexton-and-ian-madigan-6-630x456.jpg" width="630" height="456" class="alignnone" /end]

“They have been on the wrong side of that, lost the last three games so it would be disappointing to not be in the Champions Cup next season but that is out of my control. It is not something I can affect.

“That is just going to have to be a bridge I have to cross when I get there. They have a quality side there, they are going to bounce back and finish well and hopefully make the top six. I think they showed earlier in the season that once they are in the mix in that top six they can beat anyone on their day.”

For now, Madigan’s focus is on finishing the season with Leinster on a high in the Guinness Pro12. The move to Bordeaux occupies his thoughts and planning, while his Ireland ambition drives everything.

“Ultimately for me, playing for Ireland is everything,” says Madigan. “Part of the reason I am moving to Bordeaux is to improve myself as a player and to prolong my international career.

“I think moving to Bordeaux, challenging myself, new players, new coaches, new league, I am going to improve myself as a player. I am still young enough that I can continue hopefully playing for Ireland while I am there, if selected.

“Whereas I feel if I stay where I am at the moment that I don’t deserve to be representing Ireland. If I am not starting for my club then there are other guys who are going to be starting in the other Irish provinces that, given time and experience, are going to pass me out.

“For me, it was about weighing up the decision of how I can best improve myself so I can represent Ireland because, ultimately, that’s everything to me.”

Former Blackrock College RFC star Ian Madigan launched the Ulster Bank League’s ‘Drop Kick for your Club’ initiative, which will take place at half time during the UBL final in the Aviva Stadium on Sunday 8 May.

Ulster Bank is calling on players around the country to enter for a chance to drop-kick and win €10,000 for their club. For full details check out www.facebook.com/UlsterBankRugby.

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Murray Kinsella

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