It’s Not Easy Being Niyi-zi

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As published in InTouch Magazine, November edition.

There was an old saying I came across before: “It’s six o’clock and there isn’t a cow milked or a child washed.” I’d strongly suspect that it applied throughout Connacht on the morning after last season’s Pro12 final.

Nobody could claim to have been around when Queen Méabh led the warriors of Connacht into battle to claim the most famous bull in Ireland in the Cattle Raid of Cooley. In time, legend will record that it was actually Pat Lam in charge that day.

I remember being aghast at the dinner table as Kerry’s Maurice Fitzgerald split the uprights from the sideline to force a replay with Dublin in the 2001 All-Ireland Quarter-Final. I took a break from work to watch Tony McCoy rally his horse to take the lead yards from the line for his 4,000th career win in 2013. I was still dismissing Dundalk’s chances until Robbie Benson raced clear to secure a 3-0 win over Bate Borisov in the Champions League last August.

These are all moments that have become part of Irish sporting folklore and last May another was added: Where were you when Niyi Adeolokun chipped over the Leinster defence to help seal Connacht’s first ever Pro12 title in Edinburgh and shake up the old provincial order?

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“I’ll never forget it but it hasn’t quite sunk in yet. It’s all a bit surreal,” Adeoloukun admits. “It just felt like any other game though, no different to when I scored for De la Salle or Trinity, but I’m sure that in time when I look back and reflect upon what we did throughout the season, the significance of that moment will hit me.”

Having arrived in Terenure as a 10 year old from Nigeria, Adeolokun’s sudden rise in Irish rugby has taken an unfamiliar route. A talented sportsman, Adeoloukun may have been togging out for Dublin against Mayo had he remained with the Templeogue Synge Steet GAA Club. Shelbourne FC also harboured his talent before his rugby prowess was unearthed.

“Sport was my life. I threw my hand at everything at De la Salle Churchtown – usually to get of class! But when I was cut from Leinster U19 Development squad shortly before the inter-pros began I was more disappointed than I might have imagined. I was about to start 6th year so I made a conscious decision to cut down on everything and focus on my rugby… and studies!”

Lorcan Balfe, Adeolokun’s principal, then brought the speed merchant to the attention of Tony Smeeth, the Director of Rugby at Dublin City University. “I had four brilliant years under Tony but he knew that professional rugby was in my sights. He played his part in making that happen, sending out my highlights reel to a few of his contacts in the game – one even went as far as Bernard Jackman at Grenoble! But it was Nigel Carolan who acted on it and set up a trial at Connacht.”

Niyi Adalukan scores a try 21/5/2011

An opportunity for Adeolokun to showcase his ability was first presented in a game against Russian side Enisei in April 2014. Following a comfortable 54-21 win, Pat Lam wasted little time and invited the winger to join up with the side. “It was a very easy decision to come out west. I would have gone anywhere to play professional rugby but when Connacht expressed an interest I was delighted because it also meant that I could stay in Ireland and remain close to family and friends.”

Within a few weeks of his professional debut, Adeolokun had signed a three-year contract and his momentum continued to build thereafter. His impressive early season form has seen him sign a further extension that will see him remain at the Sportsground until at least the summer of 2019. Furthermore, a long awaited international bow came with the visit of Canada to the Aviva Stadium in November.

While Adeolokun’s personal aspirations are being fulfilled, Connacht’s fortunes hit something of a setback in the early part of the season. With the team languishing in the lower end of the Pro12 table, they faced an uphill battle to return to the heights of last year.

“It was always going to be a hard ask to try and live up to what the championship winning team achieved. We are now the team that everyone wants to beat. But I’m sure that whatever the season brings, Pat is experienced enough to handle it and we can have another successful season at Connacht.

“In any event, regardless of what happens Pat Lam has had a huge influence on all of us. Obviously, he gave me the chance to play at this level but off the pitch he is equally significant. He invests his time in making you a better person and places great emphasis on what is important to you. He knows exactly what makes each player tick and so all any of us want to do is our best for him.”

Once the cows were finally milked and all the children washed, the party continued across the City of the Tribes as the victorious side returned home. But despite the fanfare there was to be no postponing of the Galway Senior Football Championship. Life kicked on, the only difference being that all the youngsters in Pearse Stadium wore the green of their province and cradled a rugby ball. Few would have thought that a boy from the Nigerian town of Ibadan would be instrumental in bringing about that change.

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Mossy Lawler: Past Player in Focus

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As published in InTouch Magazine (IRUPA), November edition.

When you were in school, did you have any idea what you hoped to do career wise?

Rugby was all I ever wanted to do and being a pro player was the goal even from a young age. Did I ever think it was going to happen??? I wasn’t sure but I did everything I possibly could to give myself the chance.

How did you embark on your rugby career?

I came through the age grade system in Munster the same way that the kids do now but there were no provincial academies in my day. There was just the one – the National Academy. I was disappointed not to have made it at the time but it never got in my way of reaching my goal. I played with the Irish 20s for two seasons, captaining them in my second year. I was offered a development contract with Munster after that and the rugby road really began.

Did you consider rugby to be a viable career option?

Yes, because at the time it was my only option.

 What third level education did you undertake and how did you balance study commitments with your training and playing schedule?

I never studied before turning professional which was a massive mistake on my behalf. I went into the game early and I never fully prepared myself for the aftermath. I eventually got sense in my later years and started to study while still playing. The balance is all about time management and it can all be done if you can organise your life properly. There is so much help available now through IRUPA to help players balance their commitments. There are no excuses anymore.

How did your rugby career progress?

I played with Munster from 2000-2009. I also spent a season with London Wasps but had to finish my career that year through injury. Rugby gave me my best years of my life but it was a mental battle rather than a physical one!

Do you think playing rugby has helped your off field career?

Very much so! If nothing else rugby gives you discipline, teaches you how to manage your time, and to have the utmost respect for your colleagues, friends and family. These are all traits that employers look for in an individual.

How was your retirement experience?

It was something that I was dreading because I loved the game so much. Jokingly, I had always said that I would play some sort of rugby until I was 40. But, when the time came I was ready. I was in a good place physically (sort of) but mentally I just had enough. I had already delved into the coaching world so I was ready for the next step.

 Looking back what did you most enjoy about playing rugby and what do you miss most?

I suppose the biggest thing I missed was the lads. You spend so much time with them every day both on and off the pitch that they really become an extension of your family. When it’s all over they are suddenly cut from your life. Yes, you have made friends forever and don’t get me wrong, it’s not like you will never see them again but that day to day connection, that suiting up on a Saturday together, that joy of victory together is gone.

What piece of advice would you give young players starting out today?

Get an education – Have RESPECT for all – Hard Work pays off!

Finally Mossy, what are you doing currently?

I am working for Connacht Rugby as an EPDO. My day to day duties are coaching the Academy and TIP groups around the regions. I am also Head Coach of the Connacht Eagles. Rugby has giving me everything past and present!

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