Less than five months after playing for Dublin University in an AIL 1B relegation battle with Shannon RFC, 23-year-old Niyi Adeolokun will earn his second PRO12 start tonight, lining out on the right wing for Connacht as they face Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield.

Born in Ibadan, Nigeria, Adeolokun came to Ireland with his family in 2001 but admits rugby wasn’t the first sport he turned his hand to.

“I was 10 years old when we came to Ireland and Gaelic football was my first love. I played with Templeogue Synge Street for years and I just loved it.

“It wasn’t until I started secondary school in De La Salle College that I started playing rugby. I enjoyed it but I also loved my football and soccer. I guess it really became serious for me after 5th year when I got dropped from the Leinster U19’s development squad who I had trained with in the summer. Going in to 6th year I didn’t make the interpro team so that’s when I decided I really wanted to give it a go and put the head down. I played for the senior cup team that year and then luckily, I got a call to play with the Dublin University team.”

It was DUFC Director of Rugby Tony Smeeth who spotted the talent of young Adeolokun and brought him in to play for the AIL side in 2009 where he honed his rugby skills for four season.  The young back was also very influential in the Dublin University Sevens team that won back-to-back All Ireland Championships in 2011 and 2012.

“Yea, playing sevens really helps you in terms of putting your skills under pressure, setting up space and ultimately building your confidence. I really enjoyed it.”

Adeolokun played with US international Scott LaValla at Dublin University and name checks the Stade Francais lock as the inspiration to take his rugby career further.

“Scott was a huge mentor for me and when he got signed for Stade, I knew I had that dream as well to go professional.  So I talked to my coach (Tony Smeeth) and we had a look around. He always believed in me and told me if I put my head down and trained hard, then a professional career was possible.

“We were talking to a few teams in France but luckily it was Nigel Carolan (Connacht Academy Manager) who saw a clip of me and invited me to play a game with the Connacht Eagles in April against Russian side Enisei. I started on the wing and we had a good win. Pat (Lam) was there that day and he had a word with me after the game and said he’d like to meet me again for a chat.

“I came up to meet the Connacht coaches after that and was really impressed by the way they spoke about the Connacht environment and culture. It’s as much about growing the player on and off the field to be a better person as it is about the rugby. I just really wanted to be a part of it.”

In terms of the big differences between club rugby and the professional set-up, Adeolokun says there aren’t many but everything is just that ‘bit more intense’.

“Going into pre-season at the end of June, I was thinking ‘I just want to survive this and not break down – mentally and physically. I knew it was going to be hell and back but the S&C guys and the coaches looked after me well and taught me ways to look after my body during what was a challenging but enjoyable few months.

“There are a lot of similarities with club training but it’s just a lot more detailed and technical. All of the players have to be so mentally strong as well and focused on their job and what they have to do on and off the field.  

When Head Coach Pat Lam named his team for the opening game of the season against Newport Gwent Dragons, he gave particular praise to his new winger, saying:

“Since he’s come in, he’s ticked every single box. He’s impressed his team mates and coaches with his work ethic and the speed at which he’s adapted to the professional set-up. He deserves this start and it’s very exciting for both him and his family.”

What attitude does an inexperienced 23-year-old need to have coming into this professional environment?

“I said before I came in that I was going to give this my all and train like I’ve never trained before. I’ve just tried to take every single thing on board and learn as much as I can. I want to keep improving as a player”, says Adeolokun.

His hard work in pre-season was rewarded with a start at the Sportsground last week – one he says he’ll always remember:

“My head was almost blank for a couple of days after Pat announced the squad. All the lads were congratulating me but I kept asking myself ‘am I really starting?’. It felt unbelievable.

“I had those pre-season games under my belt and to play Clermont and run out against all those international players was an amazing experience but you can really feel the step up in intensity going into the PRO12.

“But I don’t think about who I’m going up against or what they’ve achieved. I just try to focus on my own job and what I can bring to the table. I have to back myself and my role in the team.

Already exciting Connacht supporters with his speed and agility, Adeolokun admitted that the atmosphere at the Sportsground exceeded his expectations:

“It was incredible. I could hear the crowd every time I touched the ball and that really drove me on. It’s a great feeling to know that they are enjoying what they’re seeing.  Even the ball boys were coming up to congratulate me at the end of the game and it meant so much to me.”

Despite last week’s opening day win, Adeolokun is aware that there is a lot of improvement needed ahead of tonight’s round two clash with Edinburgh.

“Personally, I have to work on certain aspects of my game such as my tackle count. As a team we’ve spoken about keeping the intensity up for the whole game and not taking our foot off the pedal at all.

“To be a part of a team with such a clear goal of finishing in the top six of the league is brilliant. It’s a huge challenge but I want to contribute as much as I can and help Connacht make history.”

Connacht face Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield tonight in round 2 of the GUINNESS PRO12. Kick-off is at 7:35pm and the game is live on BBCALBA and TG4.

Click here for the Connacht team.

Edinburgh v Connacht
Friday 12th September
At BT Murrayfield, 7:35pm
Live on BBCAlba / TG4
Referee: Gary Conway (IRFU, 2nd competition game)
Assistant Referees: Lloyd Linton, Graeme Marshall (both SRU)
Citing Commissioner: Rob Flockhart (SRU)
TMO: David Changleng (SRU)

 

 

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