The sight of Ian Madigan settling into life at Ulster in recent weeks will have excited the province’s supporters in advance of the Guinness PRO14 season restart, and certainly the newly-recruited out-half is relishing the prospect of pulling on the jersey and making a big impact for Dan McFarland‘s side.
Madigan, who has won 30 Ireland caps, is back in Irish Rugby after spells in France with Bordeaux Begles and, more recently, with Pat Lam‘s Bristol Bears in England and is now looking to hit the ground running at Ulster.
The 31-year-old has been working hard with McFarland’s squad at Kingspan Stadium in recent weeks and could make his debut for the northern province in the upcoming PRO14 Inter-provincial derbies against Connacht on 23rd August and Leinster on 29th August, both of which will be played behind-closed-doors at the Aviva Stadium.
Linking up with plenty of familiar faces at Ulster, including former Leinster team-mates Jordi Murphy, Marty Moore and John Cooney, Madigan says the switch from Bristol has been made seamless by the warm welcome he has received in Belfast.
“It’s been very different to the Bordeaux move which was one end of the spectrum,” he said on a media conference call this week. “You were learning a new language, you don’t really know any of the guys so you are literally learning 45 new names, a new language, a completely new system and everything from strength and conditioning to how you train is very different.
“Bristol would have been a step closer to what I was used to in Leinster and what I have experienced so far in Ulster. What’s been great here is that I know a huge amount of guys either from playing or training with them in Irish camp or playing against them when I was playing with Leinster or Bordeaux.
“I felt after two or three days here that I had been here six months so it was a very easy transition and one that I have really enjoyed so far.”
While Madigan, who makes no secret of his ambitions to play international rugby again, has his sights firmly set on a return to the Ireland squad, his initial focus is on settling into the Ulster changing room and breaking into McFarland’s plans, with Billy Burns, Bill Johnston and Michael Lowry among the other out-half options available to the Head Coach.
“For me personally, coming back and being able to play for one of the Irish provinces and playing for Ireland as one of my main goals has really focused me with my training and given me something to aim at,” he explained.
“I’m under no illusions that I have to really prove myself and that starts here with Ulster. There’s some good quality guys here in Billy (Burns) and Bill (Johnston) and even Mike Lowry if he plays 10 or 15.
“So it starts here, work my way into the 23 if that means coming off the bench and playing well in games and then being patient to then get a start and playing well then. Once you get a good run of games and then the bigger games start to come up and you are trying to get in for European games or big Inter-provincial games.
“If you do well in those games for any of the Irish provinces then you deserve your opportunity to be in the mix for a national selection, but there’s a lot of rugby to be played on my part for that to happen.
“It’s something that really excites me. It’s my number one goal to play for Ireland.”