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.
Click Here: FC Bayern München soccer tracksuit
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.