Developing in a winning environment

 
 

Leinster centre and upcoming Irish international Fergus McFadden talks to Killian Woods about the Churchill Cup and his future career.

FOLLOWING HIS DEBUT professional season with Leinster last year, the vibrant Fergus McFadden has much to look forward to in the new season. After playing a half-dozen games last year in what was considered a strong Leinster team, McFadden will be hoping to cement his place in the senior squad and play a pivotal role in the province’s future success.

Fergus-2.jpg Having started Leinster’s first Magners League game of the season against the Llanelli Scarlets, McFadden also made the first fifteen in the provinces match against the Newport Gwent Dragons at the RDS, a match which saw him give a solid overall display.

After playing out the early stages of his career with Clongowes College, McFadden moved to UCD and enjoyed considerable success with the under 20s, notably winning the JP Fanagan League. When asked about the set up of UCD Rugby, McFadden names organisation as a key contributor to the club’s success in winning trophies and developing promising players.

“UCD have a great set-up. Obviously the facilities are unbelieveable, and they probably have some of the best facilities in the country in terms of all sports. With the likes of rugby, the management team is strong. Bobby Byrne and Gary Coakley are extremely good coaches. There is also [UCD Director of Rugby] John McClean, who’s excellent at recruiting players from schools to play at under-20 level for the college.”

“I don’t know, it’s hard to make comparisons with a player of his calibre. But it’s nice to be compared to him, and maybe people think I might be following in his footsteps”

McFadden is one of a long line of UCD players to break into the Leinster and Irish senior squads, following the path taken by players such as Rob Kearney, Denis Hickie and Brian O’Driscoll.

McFadden made his Leinster debut against the Cardiff Blues in September 2007, though he only managed to earn two starts that season. His first year as professional, in 2008-09, reiterated his potential and brought his name to the fore of the Leinster and Ireland management teams.

McFadden has clearly benefitted from being in the squad, even when he wasn’t playing: “I would have looked up to the likes of O’Driscoll and D’Arcy when I was in school. They’re two of the best centres in Europe certainly, and probably the world. I learnt a great deal from being with them, playing with them and chatting with them about the game.”

The dynamic centre is clearly feeling at home in the Leinster camp, and hearing him refer to O’Driscoll and D’Arcy as “work colleagues” and “friends” incidates being pointed in the right direction.

After finishing out the year with a string of impressive performances for the province – taking on kicking duties in many games – McFadden caught the eye of the Irish selectors, looking to continue Irish rugby’s success into the summer, and was called up to the Ireland A squad for the Churchill Cup.

McFadden played a central role in an Ireland A team which ultimately emerged victors, defeating Canada, Georgia and England Saxons in the final, with McFadden carrying his end-of-season form into the tournament and offering some thrilling displays of his skill set. These impressive performances, especially in the final against England Saxons, led to him picking up the curiously designed Most Valuable Player trophy.

However, the impressive looking trophy may have seen better days. “I was staying on in America for a few days for a holiday so I gave the trophy to one of the more reliable lads to bring home”, he admits. “He got it back for me but its kinda half-broken; it’s still in one piece though. But it’s nice to have it, a good memento of the competition.”

After his summer performances for Ireland A, comparisons between himself and the aforementioned current Irish captain began to crop up. Speaking of these comparisons, McFadden modestly seems unaware of the idea. “I don’t know, it’s hard to make comparisons with a player of his calibre. But it’s nice to be compared to him, and maybe people think I might be following in his footsteps.”

His performances also seem to be catching the eye of Irish coach Declan Kidney. McFadden was called up to the numerous camps over the summer showing that Kidney clearly has him in his mind for selection for the upcoming autumn internationals. “I’ve been involved in the first few camps over the summer and I suppose if I try to keep playing well for Leinster hopefully I might be in with a shout when the international fixtures come along. All I can do is train hard, play well and hope I catch his eye.”

Admittedly, trying to hold a place in a Leinster team that has experienced, world-class centres will be tough for McFadden, though with the new format of the Magners League – with play-offs between the top four clubs being introduced to decide the eventual winner – the coaches will have more license to experiment this year.

“I personally think the new format is better. In the past it was great that the team who played the best rugby over the year wins. But the new format probably makes the league more competitive for the fringe teams and interesting overall”.

The timing of Fergus McFadden’s career could not coincide better with the current boom in Irish rugby, allowing him play with – and learn from – some of the best players and coaches this country has ever produced. Developing around this winning mentality can only be positive. Don’t be suprised if this venturing young player faetures in the upcoming Autumn tests.

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