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'I've come here and I feel like I've really been coached. They've challenged me'

Ian Madigan has settled in happily to life with Ulster since joining last summer.

Madigan joined Ulster last summer.
Madigan joined Ulster last summer.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE LAST TIME Ian Madigan played in the Heineken Champions Cup, it was against Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium.

Nearly four years on from that appearance for Bordeaux in January 2017, the out-half is set for his European bow in Ulster colours against Toulouse this evening [KO 8pm, BT Sport].

In between, Madigan has left Bordeaux, helped Bristol to get promoted from the Championship, gradually fallen away from first-choice status at the English club, and returned to Irish rugby having originally left his native Leinster in 2016.

While an injury to Billy Burns has opened the door for this first European start for the province, 31-year-old Madigan is thrilled at how his decision to move to Ulster last summer has worked out.

His 30 Ireland caps meant he had played with several of the Ulster squad before, while there are ex-Leinster team-mates in the group too.

“A lot of the guys knew what I was about and I was able to pick up very quickly what made them tick, so I have really enjoyed that side of it,” said Madigan this week.

Having struggled for game time in Bristol particularly in his last season following the emergence of Callum Sheedy, Madigan had needed a fresh start and he has been invigorated by the coaching he’s getting at Ulster.

Head coach Dan McFarland and his staff have encouraged Madigan to contribute his experience but are also pushing him to be better.

“They’re very open-minded and you can approach them with your own ideas and you can work with them. They’re also very challenging. I’ve come here and I feel like I’ve really been coached. They’ve challenged me to improve and I’ve really enjoyed that.

ian-madigan-celebrates-kicking-the-winning-penalty-with-teammates-with-the-last-kick-of-the-game Madigan celebrates his game-clinching penalty against Edinburgh. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

“I still have so much learning to do in the game, whether it’s working with Jared Payne on defence, working on my tackle technique or what position I take up in the defensive line, that’s something we’re building each week.

“Similar in attack with Dwayne Peel, he’s been great for challenging me on how I play the game, trying to get me flatter, playing more upfield, challenging the line, bringing more players into the game.

“I’ve been able to see my game has come on a lot since I arrived here. I feel like I’m building momentum on a personal note, and from a team perspective, I feel I’m really fitting into the quality system we have here.”

Bristol out-half Sheedy is now a Wales international and has been highly complimentary about Madigan’s role as a mentor to him, stating that the Irishman was “absolutely unbelievable for me” and that he “took my game to another level – the competitive edge he brought to training, the way he drove me on.”

Madigan feels that kind of role comes naturally to him and he has enjoyed working with the younger members of Ulster’s squad in a similar way.

“I like helping the guys around me and it’s not necessarily the guys who are in my position or positions I’ve played – if I see something that could help one of the young back rowers coming through, or a young hooker coming through, whether it’s holding his feet or maintaining his width or running better lines to get on the ball more, I enjoy that.

“I enjoy going home in the evenings and reviewing training and sending clips to guys, seeing what makes them tick. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to see whatever bits of advice you might have given coming through in their own game. That’s a big part of it.

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ian-madigan-dejected-after-the-game-with-james-hume Madigan is enjoying working with the youngsters in Ulster's squad. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I feel I’ve clicked with the squad and really enjoyed working with the younger guys coming through, and it’s really satisfying for me watching them play so well.

“You look at the likes of Mike Lowry, Stew Moore, James Hume, the growth we’ve seen from them in the first eight games of the season has been really satisfying.”

It sounds like Madigan is destined for a future in coaching but he has plenty still left to do on the pitch, with a tough test ahead for Ulster this evening as Top 14 side Toulouse visit them three months on from knocking McFarland’s men out of last season’s Champions Cup quarter-finals.

“Winning your first home game is crucial,” said Madigan. “If we lose on Friday night, we’re under no illusions with only three other group games remaining how challenging it would be.”

Ulster:

15. Michael Lowry
14. Matt Faddes
13. James Hume
12. Stuart McCloskey
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Ian Madigan
9. John Cooney

1. Eric O’Sullivan
2. Rob Herring
3. Marty Moore
4. Alan O’Connor
5. Sam Carter (captain)
6. Sean Reidy
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Marcell Coetzee.

Replacements:

16. John Andrew
17. Andrew Warwick
18. Tom O’Toole
19. David O’Connor
20. Matty Rea
21. Alby Mathewson
22. Stewart Moore
23. Craig Gilroy

Toulouse:

15. Maxime Médard
14. Matthis Lebel
13. Sofiane Guitoune
12. Romain Ntamack
11. Cheslin Kolbe
10. Thomas Ramos
9. Antoine Dupont

1. Cyrill Baille
2. Julien Marchand (captain)
3. Charlie Faumuina
4. Rory Arnold
5. Joe Tekori
6. Rynhardt Elstadt
7. Albert Placines
8. Selevasio Tolofua

Replacements:

16. Guillaume Marchand
17. Rodrigue Neti
18. David Ainu’u
19. Emmanuel Meafou
20. Louis-Benoît Madaule
21. Yannick Youyoutte
22. Pita Ahki
23. Alexi Balès

Referee: Matthew Carley [RFU].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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