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Ian Madigan: 'I've always had the view that I'm competing against myself'

Madigan says he has to give it “absolutely everything” this pre-season.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IT’S BEEN A strange kind of pre-season.

While rugby has taken a month off, training hasn’t. Ian Madigan doesn’t mind though, the routine of a few weeks without a rugby ball has been a break from the norm, when the weekly intensity of matches takes as much out of the mind as it does the body.

Pre-season usually means a long grind from July to September, but with test rugby on the horizon in just over four weeks time, keeping the fitness ticking over has been a priority.

He rested too, or at least tried to, but the thoughts of the World Cup and the competition for places wasn’t too far away. Other players can take the month and put the feet up, and switch off the motor altogether. But Madigan wants to keep the engine running. It’s a peace of mind thing. It’s each to their own.

“The World Cup is always on your mind and I’ve definitely found this off season I’ve trained more than I would have in previous years.

“Some guys might feel that it’s right to not train at all in the month off and you might have other guys who train every single day and they feel that that’s right for themselves.

“For me I felt like I needed a mental break from games, physically I felt really good and I was able to do a fair bit of training, and a lot of it was stuff that I really enjoy doing and I don’t feel like it was a chore going out to do it,” he says.

Ian Madigan Madigan started at out-half in the meeting with the Barbarians last month. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

He has his targets and he knows the score. With nearly 20 caps in the past two years, he’s no longer a bolter trying to take somebody’s place in the squad.

That’s not to say he’s getting cosy with a place in the team. Jerseys are scarce and if he can’t tick the boxes that Joe Schmidt wants, he knows there are plenty of other guys who will. After all, he’s not the only one trying to impress.

“I’ve had a few conversations with Joe during the week of the Barbarians game, and in the off-season and he’s made it clear to me what he expects of me for him to be able to pick me and I know if I fall short of that I won’t be in it.

“My buddies from school would be saying ‘I saw Fergus McFadden in the gym this morning’, or ‘I saw Sean Cronin in the gym this morning,’ and there’s definitely a feeling of guys staying on top of the training.”

Caps to the Summit Launch 2015 Madigan helped launch the Caps to the Summit event for The Niall Kerins Project. Source: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

He’s taking what he hopes will be his first World Cup campaign in stages. The first is making the cut when 45 becomes 31. To do that he needs to be flexible. With places in the squad scarce, versatility is the only way forward and very few will have the luxury of deciding their position.

“Step one is getting in the squad of 31. If you’re not in that squad, there’s no point saying, ‘I want to be playing out-half’, or, ‘I want to be playing in the centre’. It’s not worth anything to you.

“It’s about showing Joe I can cover as many positions as possible because if you can do that at the top level there’s no doubt that you are more valuable to the coach. For me, if I show I can cover other positions but also put my hand up to be a starter, that’s kind of the plan I’d have in my own head.”

Even before the 45 were named, there were big calls for Schmidt to make. Ian Keatley started the Six Nations wearing the number 10 jersey for Ireland, but as his form dropped late in the season, Paddy Jackson’s rose.

Ian Keatley kicks a penalty Keatley got the nod ahead of Madigan for the Six Nations opener in Rome. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

In the end, it was Jackson who was recalled when the extended squad was announced, and with no guarantee that Sexton, Madigan and Jackson will all travel to the tournament, it’s now that the competition will rise again.

However, Madigan speaks philosophically about the competition for places. It’s about keeping a cool head and a dry pants. If he spends September and October in Leinster training gear out in UCD, then so be it. He can get over that if he knows he gave himself every chance of making it.

“I wouldn’t view myself as competing with Johnny, or Paddy or Ian (Keatley). I’ve always had the view that I’m competing against myself. For me it’s about getting myself in the best physical shape I can be in, getting myself in the best mental state and putting my hand up for selection and taking the opportunities that come my way as best as I can.

“At the end of the pre-season and the warm-up games I’ll know I’ll have been true to myself. If that means I’m the starting out-half or it means I’m going back to Leinster and not going to the World Cup I can still look myself in the eye and know I’ve given it absolutely everything.”

Equally, he’d be advising those that missed the 45 man cut to keep the phones on and the fitness up. Injuries are frequent and rugby can be cruel and all it takes is one bad fall or one heavy tackle for you to be a player in demand.

“I think that there’s no doubt that there’ll be at least one player outside of that group of 45 that will still go to the World Cup. That’s either through guys getting injured in warm-up games or during pre-season, or certain guys losing form, or filtering through from the provincial camps.

“I think it’s important for the guys that weren’t included in the 45 man squad that they don’t lose faith and at any opportunity they put their hand up for selection.”

Current Irish Rugby Stars, Ian Madigan and Nora Stapleton joined Alan Kerins (Alan Kerins Projects), Denis Hickie (patron to Gorta-Self Help Africa), Tony Ward and Ollie Campbell (former Irish rugby players) in St. Stephen’s Green yesterday to launch the Caps to the Summit event. A two day event  that will see 32 former Irish rugby heroes hike to the summit of Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntuohil in September to raise money for the Alan Kerins Projects and Gorta-Self Help Africa. Further information available at: www.capstothesummit.com

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About the author:

Neil Treacy

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