Sunday 24 September 2017

Flying try machine eager to get back to top form again

Winger desperate for big finale and more caps after earning Ireland debut in November

Niyi Adeolokun, here in action against Dragons at the Sportsground, has maintained his great form from last season for Connacht Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Niyi Adeolokun, here in action against Dragons at the Sportsground, has maintained his great form from last season for Connacht Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Daragh Small

With six games to go in the Pro12 season, fourth place looks out of reach for reigning champions Connacht, but that hasn't stopped them from picking up momentum and confidence towards the run-in.

And if Connacht continue in their current vein of form, they could well qualify for next season's Champions Cup with a top-six finish.

The players still believe that direct qualification can be achieved, and their determination is palpable as their season begins to pick up pace at the same time as it did last term.

There won't be any silverware added to the cabinet by the end of 2016-17, but the players will hope to welcome new head coach Kieran Keane to the Sportsground with the province on the best footing possible.

And winger Niyi Adeolokun is thrilled that Connacht's fortunes have turned around in time to launch an assault for a Champions Cup place.

"As a team it has been mixed bag so far this season," the wing concedes. "We started very slowly in the league and we lost a few games that we felt we should have won. But there were still good signs that we are playing good rugby in patches.

"Going towards the business end of the season, we are looking to pull it all together for 80 minutes and win some big matches. We still believe that we can get Champions Cup rugby this season.

"And there are still plenty of games to go and lots of results can go our way.

"We will just look to keep building the wins and hopefully we can get a good run of wins before the end of the season, and we can definitely still finish up in the top five or six."

Connacht haven't much time to pull off what would be a great escape, with sixth-placed Glasgow seven points ahead.

And it was a season that had promised so much for Connacht after they won their first piece of silverware, with the Pro12 title in Murrayfield last May.

That victory over Leinster was a landmark achievement in the club's history and Adeolokun (26) was one of the try-scorers on a day where Connacht blitzed a provincial rival.

"It has been a little bit of a disappointment since, but it was never going to be perfect," he says. "The way we have lost some games has been tough but there is not much we can do about that now.

"Slowly the confidence is starting to build again. A few guys that have been injured for a good while have come back and training has been more competitive.

"It's great to see those guys back on the pitch as well, the likes of Bundee Aki and Eoghan Masterson. We are starting to build momentum towards the business end of the season.

Impact

"We know the impact Bundee had on us last year. We probably did miss him a bit and it's fantastic to have him back directing plays. The confidence is back up now and hopefully he can stay fit until the end of the season, and we will build from there."

Adeolokun has become a first-team regular in his third season at the Sportsground, and he has rewarded head coach Pam Lam by scoring six tries in his 21 appearances this term.

The Ireland international, born in Ibadan in Nigeria, will have a new head coach to impress when Keane moves to Connacht for the start of next season. It's an exciting chapter in the province's history and Adeolokun is looking forward to it.

"It's good, it's out of the way, and we know who's coming in. I wouldn't have personally known too much about him before we got the news, but now we have heard a lot from guys who have worked near him and that seems to be all really good," he says.

"We are looking forward to finishing this season on a high with Pat now and then focusing on next season when it comes around.

"And I am delighted that Pat has trusted me and named me in the team so often. I just have to keep pushing away, working hard and getting better with each game."

Adeolokun's regular game-time was noticed by Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, who handed him his Ireland debut in the November international against Canada.

The former De La Salle Churchtown student was ecstatic at having the opportunity, but now he wants to add to his number of international caps.

"I just need to go back to doing the basics well that got me in in the first place," he explains.

"I need to get up on the ball a lot more, then it's about making less errors, working hard off the ball and doing the simple things well. I am in touch with Joe Schmidt every now and again but not constantly.

"He is a very detailed man and he is always telling me stuff to work on, what he sees, what he wants to see, and what he wants me to get better with. It's always constructive criticism."

"It was a great day because not many players get to experience that. It was less than 15 minutes but I was still honoured to get on the pitch for that time.

"I was delighted and it was a pleasure to play in the Aviva Stadium. It was a bit surreal.

"I never imagined in my dreams that I would be in that position so it was very cool to be able to look back on that now. It gives you another goal for the future, because you want to be back experiencing that again.

"The nerves were like usual, you don't want to get your roles wrong but as soon as you get on the pitch that all goes and you just want to get your hands on the ball."

Irish Independent

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