Cool head in a Mad' world
IN the midst of success and failure, to paraphrase the great Rudyard Kipling, those who keep a cool head will often last the test of time.
Like many of his provincial colleagues, out-half Ian Madigan has learned more about the game, more indeed about himself, through the tougher times when things did not go as he would have liked.
February 26, 2007 was one such learning curve when the young Dubliner stepped up to take a closing-minute penalty for his alma mater, Blackrock College, in a Schools Senior Cup quarter-final against Kilkenny College in Donnybrook.
Perhaps one of the toughest aspects about knockout rugby is that when you emerge on the wrong side of victory, that can be it for that group of players.
It will be the last time you tog out with team-mates whom you have battled alongside for maybe the guts of eight or nine years.
He picks up the story: "You can look back on days like that and understand a lot about the game. Kilkenny were deserving winners on the day and of course it was a difficult time initially because as a kicker you do blame yourself.
"I was very fortunate that I had a lot of good heads around me at the time, both in the school itself through the likes of Fr Joe Gough, who was very encouraging, and at home where my dad (Michael), older brother (David) and grandfather (Larry) were a big help to me.
"Schools rugby was very good to me. I managed to be a member of a winning Junior Cup side (2004), represented the school at Senior Cup level in 2005 (losing finalists). So, overall, my memories are mainly happy ones from that period."
Flash forward two years to a cold Friday night in Athlone and Madigan is this time wearing a green jersey. Faced with a last-minute drop-goal attempt to help his country defeat England in an Under-20 international, he calmly drops back into the pocket and nails the kick to send the home crowd -- and live TV audience -- into delirium.
Madigan smiles at the memory. "I'd be lying if I said I was calm at that moment! You just try to trust in all the practice you've done and in your technique and hope to make a clean strike," he said. "Thankfully, the ball went over the bar!"
You suspect, though, that he doesn't spend too much time dwelling on the past.
This season has been his busiest to date and having been a part of last year's Heineken Cup he managed an impressive run of games in the opening half of the season which saw him reap almost a try every second game.
With the impressive kicking form of Jonathan Sexton, Fergus McFadden and Isa Nacewa reducing his opportunities to kick, he is patiently applying himself in training under the tutelage of Skills & Kicking Coach Richie Murphy for the moment when he may be asked to assume kicking duties. "All three of the lads have been really consistent so far this year and I'm looking forward to having an opportunity to kick," the 22-year-old says.
"That time could come this weekend, or maybe during the Six Nations. Who knows?
"You just have to be ready to make a contribution to the team."
Faced with the business end in both the PRO12 and Heineken Cup competitions, he is determined to continue to make an impression when opportunity knocks. "We're in a good position just now, but there's a massive incentive for us this weekend with the opportunity to get a home quarter-final. And we want to finish these Pool stages on a high," he notes ahead of the visit of Montpellier to a sold-out RDS tomorrow afternoon," he insists.
"Montpellier are a big, physical side and they have a lot of skills out in their backline, irrespective of which combinations they go for.
"Their fitness levels are top notch and François Trinh-Duc pulls the strings for them.
"When their forwards impose themselves, they're a real handful.
"So we're under no illusion as to how tough a test we're going to face tomorrow. Montpellier play with a lot of pride.
"And they'll take confidence from their victory over Glasgow last weekend. We're happy to have qualified for the quarter-finals, but there's still a huge amount for us to play for this weekend. It's exciting to play in the RDS and knowing that we're going to have a full house there is definitely a positive.
"It'll be a big test for us, but one we're looking forward to."