‘I’ve realised that Ireland is where I want to settle when the rugby career ends’
‘I’ve realised that Ireland is where I want to settle when the rugby career ends’

‘I’ve realised that Ireland is where I want to settle when the rugby career ends’

BRISTOL BEARS concluded their first season back in the Premiership with a 19-12 win against relegated Newcastle yesterday afternoon, securing themselves a ninth-placed finish.

It’s been a positive campaign for Pat Lam’s side on their return to the top flight as they have won admirers with their expansive style of play and notched some impressive victories along the way.

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Ian Madigan, the former Ireland and Leinster out-half, has played a starring role on some of those big days this season but the campaign has not been without its challenges for the 30-year-old.

Madigan before a Bears game. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Having spent the first part of the season as first-choice in the 10 shirt, Madigan fell into a battle with Callum Sheedy for selection at out-half and was last named to start there in the Premiership in February. The Irishman didn’t feature in the matchday 23 yesterday.

Madigan has come off the bench to important effect at times in recent months but 23-year-old Sheedy’s elevation has been frustrating for the Dublin native.

“It’s been a challenging year personally, just in the sense that when I felt I was getting in form, something would get in the way – a niggly injury or personal loss of form,” says Madigan.

“Callum got his chance and he’s done really well, good on him for that. He’s a very good player and a quality guy off the field as well. I enjoy working alongside him but, at the same time, I want to be the guy that’s first-choice.

“Pat has made it clear to me how I can get back in there. I’ve had challenges previously in my career in Leinster or Bordeaux where I’ve been disappointed with selection or losing a big game, but I find that if you get the head down and work hard, you’ll come out the other side of it. There’s no value in feeling sorry for yourself.”

Madigan will enjoy his summer break and return to Bristol for pre-season determined to “hit the ground running” ahead of the 2019/20 campaign.

The former Bordeaux out-half has shown previously in his career that he can make an impact off the bench and that was never more obvious that with his dramatic appearances against Northampton in March and Saracens last month.

Madigan struck an 88th-minute conversion to beat the Saints, while he slotted an 82nd-minute penalty to ensure Bristol won against Sarries. 

Madigan’s place kicks have won games for Bristol this season. Source: David Davies

He has, however, seen the other side of that coin recently, with two late penalty attempts against Sale last month missing narrowly as Bristol slipped drew 20-20.

“It’s tough going when you’re on the wrong side of it but, as a player now with the experiences I’ve had in school or my professional career, I’ve learned that if you win a game, you don’t get carried away and think you’ve completed rugby,” says Madigan.

“Similarly, if you lose a game, you’re not suddenly a bad team or a bad individual. This year has been unique in the sense that I’ve had three or four kicks to win games. When they went over it was great but, at the same time, they could have been missed.

“I did enjoy them, don’t get me wrong, but you know there’s a bigger picture and the kicks will possibly have to be hit the following week.

“It was disappointing to have chances at the end of the Sale game that I missed. I just go through my normal process of reviewing the kicks and finding out why I think I missed those kicks.

“I remember Johnny Sexton saying to me a while ago, ‘You learn more from your misses than you do from the kicks that go over.’ That’s something that I’ve definitely learned over the years. It’s what makes sport great and if goal-kicking was easy then everyone would be doing it.”

Madigan has been working closely with skills and kicking coach Bruce Reihana in Bristol, having also been coached by the former Northampton back in Bordeaux, while he keeps in contact with Enda McNulty, Ireland’s mental skills specialist.

They first worked together when Madigan was 18 and the Bristol out-half occasionally meets up with McNulty when he’s back in Ireland.

“He’s still a big part of what I do and he’s been great to me,” says Madigan. “I find myself sometimes passing on some of the information to the younger kickers in the squad. The mental toughness side of things that Enda goes through with you is brilliant and has really stood to me well.”

Madigan has had to fight with Callum Sheedy at 10. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Madigan’s mental skills work has changed since his younger days, when pre-match nerves would cause “a wave of illness,” whereas now he’s more relaxed. 

He still practices visualisation, watches short highlight reels to get his confidence up, uses deep breaths to calm himself, and focuses on positive affirmations, particularly around his place-kicking.

While he has had some frustrations physically this season, Madigan also feels he has matured as an athlete, understanding better what he needs to get from his body.

He had a “nasty” groin injury during his time in Bordeaux and a number of contributory issues were identified – “not having enough pelvic control, having a high rib carriage, even a small thing from shoulder surgery when I was 19 that meant I had limited range of motion in that shoulder.”

After the highly-regarded Enda King of the Santry Sports Clinic set him off in the right direction, Madigan began working with movement coach Daniel Cleal.

“He’s been great at giving me these movement series that I do as part of my warm-up to make sure everything is switched on. There’s a good conditioning element to everything he does, as opposed to just rolling out or stretching.

“He’s been great at the stabilisation, conditioning and strength side of things. He’s someone I see once a week outside the club and then during pre-season, I’ll do two training camps where I’ll go pretty hard for those camps, train three or four times a day for three days and then take a good rest after that.

“As you’re getting older in your career, you might lean slightly towards being more efficient. You’re not chasing big squatting or bench numbers, you might pare it back 5% but that might make a big difference in how you’re moving and feeling.”

Now into his 30s, Madigan has happily taken on a more senior role within the Bristol squad and says he enjoys working with younger players and passing on whatever nuggets he can offer.

“I’ve been very lucky throughout my career that I’ve been given great advice from older players and I think it’s only human nature to want to pass that on,” says Madigan.

Madigan enjoys working with former Connacht coach Pat Lam. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I’m always very open with that if any younger players have questions about rugby or outside rugby, I’ll always do my best to advise them. Whether that stands them in good stead or not, I don’t know but it’s certainly done with good intentions!”

He also takes some satisfaction with how the re-branding of Bristol Bears – previously known as Bristol Rugby – has gone, with the local community buying into the change of name and logo.

Now at the end of his third season outside of Ireland after departing in 2016, Madigan has also come to realise just how much home means to him.

In terms of rugby, he still has fierce ambitions to play for his country but stresses that “I need to be at my very best to be considered for selection.”

Even beyond his job, though, Madigan has realised that home is where the heart is.

“I’ve really enjoyed living outside Ireland. Living in France was a great experience, Bordeaux is a fantastic city and French culture and meeting a new group of people was something I have very fond memories of.

“I’ve really enjoyed Bristol and England, the people are very friendly over here. Bristol Airport makes it easy to get home if there’s something going on.

“At the same time, I’ve probably realised over the last two or three years that Ireland is where I want to settle when the rugby career ends. That’s probably something I wouldn’t have been able to answer before I left.

“I wouldn’t have known where I’d definitely like to settle but that’s something I’ve come to realise, which has been great.

“A lot of my friends would have worked in London or different parts of the world and they’re slowly beginning to move back to Ireland now. I suppose it’s the way things work.

“Having said that, I’m really enjoying Bristol and hope to be here for a few more years, then see where the last few years of my career takes me.

“It’s been a great journey so far and I’m extremely grateful for what the game has given me. I hope to stay in it for as long as possible.”

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