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Ian Madigan: Ulster's impressive vision for the future made it an easy decision to make the move

 

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Ian Madigan is moving to Ulster this summer.

Ian Madigan is moving to Ulster this summer.

Ian Madigan is moving to Ulster this summer.

New Ulster signing Ian Madigan believes he is returning to Ireland a more mature player than the one who departed these shores in the summer of 2016.

The Dubliner left Leinster in 2016, his last appearance for the national side coming on that summer's tour to South Africa, and spent one year in the Top 14 with Bordeaux-Begles before representing Bristol over the past three seasons.

The emergence of Callum Sheedy and salary cap restrictions - the Bears made former Ulster star Charles Piutau the best paid player in England back in 2017 and have Fijian superstar Semi Radradra arriving next year - caused the soon-to-be 31-year-old to look elsewhere.

His availability piqued Ulster's interest with the province making moves this season to add veteran presence to what is an ever-improving but still somewhat inexperienced panel and the out-half was impressed by the vision for the future pitched to him by head coach Dan McFarland and his assistant Dwayne Peel.

"I've been away for the last four years and it felt like the right time to move home," Madigan told Newstalk's Off the Ball. "I was just hopeful that I could get picked up by one of the Irish provinces and I was lucky enough that Ulster showed a bit of interest.

"I was invited over and met with Dan McFarland and Dwayne Peel. I was really impressed with the vision that they have for the club and the rugby that they want to play. The facilities are world class and they're blessed to have such a loyal supporter base. There are a few familiar faces which is great and something I'm really looking forward to.

"When I was over talking with Dan and Dwayne it was all about rugby and how I could fit into their team. Once those conversations have been had it's passed over and your agent works out the deal and the length of the deal and all that.

"I think it's important it's separate to maintain that rugby relationship with the head coach and everything else is in the background."

Ulster's incumbent number ten is former Gloucester man Billy Burns, recently rewarded for his good form with a two-year contract extension and a call-up to the Ireland squad for the now suspended Six Nations, while Bill Johnston, Angus Curtis and Mike Lowry can all provide back-up.

Madigan himself can play center and full-back too but says he still principally sees himself as a fly-half. Having left Leinster ostensibly as Johnny Sexton's return from Racing 92 limited his chances in the ten jersey, the 30-times capped Irish international feels he is better for the experience of his four years away.

"I was very happy in Leinster and left on great terms," he said. "When I was there initially and breaking through, you're happy just being in the 23, starting five, ten, 15 games a year. The two years when Johnny was away I was starting the majority of games with Jimmy Gopperth either at ten or 12. Then when you get to 25 or 26, you're not as happy to be sitting on the bench, you want to be the guy driving the team on each week and having an influence over how the team plays. That was something I really wanted and ultimately why I moved to France. It was a big decision at the time.  

"I went over initially on my own and my now fiancee Anna joined me after a couple of months. She's been with me for all the time in Bristol. She really keeps the show on the road which is brilliant, especially when you don't have friends and family to draw on. It's a positive influence. When you're in Leinster and in Dublin, everything is really laid on for you, the club looks after you fantastically well.

"When you're 25/26 heading away, you've got to organise getting all your stuff there, getting an apartment sorted and building a sustainable life for yourself over there, just being a bit more organised in everything you do, meeting a new squad, learning a new language, it's something I really embraced and I was quite proficient speaking French after a couple of months. That whole process was great for giving me a wider outlook on life.

"It was an enjoyable year in the sense that I learnt a lot about myself and it really helped me mature. I met some great people along the way both within the rugby environment and outside of it. Rugby-wise it wasn't a complete disaster. I got off to a good start to the year and was really enjoying playing in a different team and a different style.

"(But) I picked up a nasty groin injury and we lost form as a team. I'd three different coaches in the year that I was there. It was quite disjointed.

"The first year and a half (in Bristol) I was the main man there, starting all the games. The change was really this year. In hindsight, signing a two-year deal would have been ideal. They've a young guy (Sheedy) coming through who is very good.

"What they needed three years ago when they brought me in isn't necessarily what was needed now. With the constraints of the salary cap, they're going to be looking to use the home-grown guys wherever they can and keep that salary cap free.

"I got a sense of that pretty quickly this year that I wasn't in the future plans. It was tough to take at the time but you've just got to dust yourself off and try and look at the bigger picture. It's not necessarily that you're a bad player or that the club doesn't rate you, but they're looking to the future.

"As the season has gone on I've worked my way back in which has been satisfying and I've maintained my relationship with the coaches."

Belfast Telegraph