After a breakthrough season with Leinster and included in Declan Kidney’s initial World Cup squad, Fergus McFadden is currently riding the crest of a wave. A try against France in his second ever game for his country wasn’t bad either.
Immediately I am met by a likable lad and there is a certain air of frankness to McFadden’s tone from the outset. How did he arrive at this point?
He followed the familiar road of schools rugby to academy to full professional, but McFadden’s hunger and drive have got him to this juncture as much as any god given talent bestowed to him. Rugby wasn’t even the first sport of choice, having played Gaelic football exclusively before enterimg boarding school at Clongowes Wood College. Things were soon to change and rugby was to become the pivotal focus.
I was very small from first to fourth year, I enjoyed it but not so much the physical side of things.
The picture McFadden paints of a diminutive boy avoiding contact on the fields of Clongowes is almost hard to imagine, given the fierce and physical nature of his game today. Aurélien Rougerie will testify to that after being on the receiving end of a shuddering hit from the Leinster centre in Clermont in this year’s Heineken Cup group stages.
By the time he had reached his penultimate year in school, McFadden had developed and began to really enjoy the game. “I played senior cup rugby for two years and no matter what way my career goes, they will be some of my fondest memories.” Although reaching the final of the competition in fifth year, McFadden notes that it was a “bit of a shit day” as Clongowes were beaten quite heavily by Blackrock.
This admission is indicative of McFadden’s honest and casual tone whilst simultaneously you sense his deep will to succeed. The schools system would, however, help prepare him for the life of a rugby player with McFadden quick to acknowledge his senior cup coach Adam Lewis who brought a real sense of professionalism to the campaigns. His fondest memory of the time?
Probably my finest memory was after the first senior cup match. We beat Michael’s in the first round. And you know, just going back to the school, being carried in on people’s shoulders and seeing the effect you have on people.. I’ll never forget it.
The Academy was next and it would be a different experience to the schools system. Juggling college and the intense training regime of the Leinster academy was not something that McFadden relished and the half seven starts in the morning to train before lectures are still some of his worst memories from the programme. He is quick to admit that he didn’t manage the two aspects as best he could, and is currently still pursuing his degree.
It is clear from the outset that McFadden is a sociable kind of guy; making it difficult on occasion missing out on the typical college lifestyle when he left school. “There were times when you are training over Christmas and think you are missing out on the craic elsewhere because you are just out of school. But as a whole I really enjoyed the playing aspect of it.”
He is also quick to point out that the academy players will often be involved with the full Leinster squad, running opposition team moves against them and that new coach Joe Schmidt has ensured that the communication between academy and senior squad is “as good as it is anywhere.” Although, the limited places in the academy means that players can slip through the cracks and it is not the be all and end all, according to McFadden:
The more I look at it now, the Leinster academy system is a great structure but it only really picks up the perceived cream of the crop. Players at that age need to have broad enough minds to look abroad. Anyone can have a bad run in the cup and not get picked up by the academy. Some of the best players I played with in cup teams stopped playing after school.
Case in point would be Stephen McAuley, fullback on the Clongowes side in last year’s triumphant campaign, moving across the waters to play for Leicester.
McFadden was not one of those “weaned out”, as he puts it, during the intensities of the Academy and was subsequently offered a full professional contract. Was there an initiation process for graduate from the academy to the senior Leinster squad?
Its not really an initiation process but there are older lads you have to gain respect from. It took me up to half a year with some of them. Looking at it now, I’m better for it but at the time, you think – what is up with your man? Its a good thing though and you can’t be coming up from the academy thinking you are Billy Big Balls.
There is an induction of sorts after your first full Leinster cap however; you must must sing a song for the rest of the group. McFadden’s choice: The Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song. You get the sense that there is a genuine camaraderie in the current Leinster camp with McFadden adding: “We do have good craic on our nights out after matches and there would be about nine of us who hang out together in between sessions. You have to remember that a lot of the lads have families.”
This success hasn’t come overnight for the man from the Curragh. McFadden is now twenty-five; not exactly a fledgling. The constant impression from the man is that this is now his time and he is no longer content waiting in the wings.
The other lads in my position are good guys but you obviously want your chance. Now that I’m there, you just hope selection goes my way.
This statement can obviously be applied to the Irish World Cup squad and McFadden has a great chance of making it. If truth be told, he should be there given his power, pace and recent form. He also has the ability to play centre, wing and goal kick which is a huge advantage in a World Cup situation.
McFadden has earned this opportunity and he has all the traits of man who is going to seize every grain of it. It hasn’t always been the smoothest roads to this point but now, he has truly arrived.