Funny. Even funnier in conjunction with this:Zou bisou bisou. Mwah!
The Mole is a fan of Mad Men, AMC’s breakthrough show that chronicles the goings on at a Madison Avenue advertising agency during the golden age of American capitalism. The main protagonist is Don Draper. Women want him and men want to be him. While the show revolves around Draper’s character, the Mole’s favourite is Roger Sterling; insouciant, charming, funny and often drunk. How can you not like the guy?!
While Draper’s character is put together, Sterling’s is natural. His Dad started the business and he returned from WW2 and stepped right in, doing whatever it is that he does. If there’s a natural in Irish rugby right now, it’s Ian Madigan. The Mole has been keeping an eye on him for the last two seasons, interested by his talent and his development.
The first thing that catches the eye about Madigan’s game is his passing. It’s excellent. In his early games for Leinster, Madigan would effortlessly throw passes into the wide channels off either hand. They’d catch his runners in stride and you knew that you were watching a special talent. Then he’d do it again. And again. Soon the entire defence were running out to cream the second centre, knowing that he was going to receive a beautifully weighted pass any second now. You longed for Madigan to play a switch, just to vary things up, rather than throw perfectly weighted skip passes every time.
Returning to Mad Men, television shows use story arcs to move a character or situation from one state to another. The most recent example of this narrative structure in Irish rugby? Jonathon Sexton and Ronan O’Gara’s two-step has covered a lot of ground, most notably the shift in domestic power from Munster to Leinster and a passing of the baton between generations. For better or worse, that arc has been pretty much resolved and dramatic convention requires something to take its place.
With almost perfect timing, Madser entered stage right and is now at a point in his development where he demands a greater role. His maturing at Leinster coincides with Joe Schmidt’s tenure as head coach. Schmidt is arguably the best backs coach in the world and the ideal man to bring Madigan on. Madigan is a player that needs a top class coach. Blessed with a naturally high skill level, he doesn’t require that much technical one-on-one instruction. He does need to learn how to control a game, where to put the ball on the pitch, to understand that you don’t have to score off every phase but, by putting the ball into certain positions, you increase your chances of scoring off a subsequent phase. In other words, multi-dimensional stuff.
Last season, it looked like Madigan was learning, and learning fast. He started playing switches and using his blindside winger. He always plays flat to the line and is quite prepared to have a go himself. And if the defence is up hard and narrow? Check out the cross field kicks!
This variation is crucial in a flyhalf’s game. One of the Mole’s favourite players was Bernie Larkham, who earned the soubriquet because he was so laid back as to appear horizontal. Larkham prospered under the coaching of Rod McQueen and his acolyte Eddie Jones. Converted from full back by McQueen, he would bring his team through numerous phases before finding himself confronted by members of the opposition front five. At that point he’d step on the gas, show the ball and swerve outside the clutches of whichever knackered heavy was in front of him. Will Genia does the same. Check out how often Genia makes a break around the side of the ruck and how frequently he is running at a front row when he chooses that option.
Larkham knew that you didn’t have to score off each phase, attempt trick plays or throw 50-50 passes. You did have to give yourself options all the time, options that increased your chances of scoring and made it more difficult for the defence to stop you. Madigan has the skills to play that game so it’s now a question of choice rather than ability.
As far as choices and options go, there are a few more that confront and concern Madigan. Will the national coaching set up include him in their match day squads? Ronan O’Gara is a great sub to have but Madigan brings a different skill set to the table and has far more left in his career than O’Gara. If Madigan is officially designated in the top two outhalfs in the country, will he stay with Leinster or should he move to Ulster or Munster, each of whom will be crying out for a top class ten by the end of this season? Is Declan Kidney’s use of Sexton at first centre a case of far sighted succession planning, allowing a physically strong ball player the opportunity to learn the ropes outside an experienced campaigner and setting up a midfield that allows Madigan to take over the ten slot?
Finally, how far can Madigan go? Is he a talented support like Roger Sterling, capable of stealing scenes but with not enough substance to become a leading man? Or is he the real deal, as talented as Aaron Cruden, with the skills and temperament to earn a place on the Lions tour next summer? The Mole believes that he is the latter, the real deal, and expects this to be the season when the Mad Man takes centre stage.