Madigan seeing hard work pay off
Fly-half's dedication rewarded with new Blues deal
THE first significant fallout from the transfer of Jonathan Sexton to France has been signalled by Leinster's pre-emptive move to extend Ian Madigan's contract by two years to the end of the 2015-2016 season.
This agreement came while Madigan still had one more year left on his current deal and, no doubt, was triggered by the opinion of Leinster's new coach Matt O'Connor.
Sexton's exit opened the door mentally for Madigan to believe he will be Leinster's first choice fly-half this season, despite the signing of the well-respected Jimmy Gopperth from Newcastle Falcons.
"With Jonny there, at times, you're still thinking no matter how well you play, you're never going to get ahead of him," said Madigan.
"It is a bit of a defeatist attitude and I tried to just focus on myself. That is one thing that has stood me well.
"If I make myself into the best player possible, I will be able to look myself in the mirror at the end of my career."
There already seems to be a strong bond forming between Madigan and O'Connor. They have been working closely and intensely in pre-season.
Madigan even carried out the role of 'waterboy' against Ulster at Ravenhill to further understand what O'Connor wants from his players.
It wasn't that long ago that Madigan would have proudly described himself as "a running out-half", in the mould of his childhood hero Carlos Spencer.
He is fast moving from strike runner to playmaking general, highlighted by the special attention he has paid to his tactical kicking and game awareness. "I definitely think parts of my kicking game can be improved," he said.
"One of the things I would have worked on in pre-season was giving myself a small bit more time on the ball, not standing as flat consistently.
"I have probably added a few more kicks to my artillery, as such, like the spiral kick that you have seen Ronan (O'Gara) use over the last 15 years and Johnny (Sexton) of late."
The employment of O'Connor as a former second-eight centre brings in a former footballer with the playing experience of knowing what Madigan needs to keep progressing.
"From a general game management point of view, (I am) working on building match shape and letting the other players know the shape that he wants as early as possible.
"That could be calling a play two plays early on the run. You need to know the game-plan inside-out to do that. I have worked hard, pre-season, on learning the way he wants to play.
"There are times when I will be deeper and times when I will be just as flat or flatter than last year. It has having the variation in my game.
"What I have been working on with Matt is, if it's not on, that I give the players outside me more time in building the shape he wants."
There was a time when Madigan's goal-kicking was not an example of best practice. He has put in the hours with Leinster Skills and Kicking coach Richie Murphy to bring that up to accuracy. Game management and tactical kicking are next on his list of things 'to do'.