The Big Interview: Niyi Adeolokun - Favourite of Clan aims to stake his claim for regular slot
Flying winger delighted with his improvement at province and hopes to end season on a high
Published 22/01/2016 | 02:30
During this 16-week block of games, injury has gradually taken its toll on a small Connacht squad. And for the game away to Newcastle Falcons they could name only 22 players in their squad, and went on to get hammered 29-5.
But throughout they have been blessed with a vast array of speedsters to cover the wider channels.
Matt Healy has worked his way into Ireland contention, fellow star improver Tiernan O'Halloran has operated between full-back and wing, Danie Poolman has flirted with injury, while emerging talent Rory Parata has been given his chance.
But in his second season Niyi Adeolokun has held his own and with nine appearances and one try this season, the hard-working former Trinity flyer has become a fan favourite.
The 25-year-old has come to terms with his pre-match nerves now and that new found confidence gives him a new lease of life in a Connacht backline that continues to formulate as a unit.
Recent results has shown the cracks are still too evident, but no one doubts the potential that exists. And the Nigerian-born back fits in perfectly with the ethos emanating from Pat Lam's sentiments.
Hard work, basics, processes and culture are all fundamentals of Connacht Rugby in the modern era, and Adeolokun has bought into that. He studies in DIT now, but rugby comes first and foremost and he is constantly learning new ways he can improve his game too.
"Getting into the right mindset would have been one of my main work-ons, because I would have got pretty nervous for big games. Especially when I got sick before the Leinster game last year.
"Obviously talking to other people has helped. I am a lot calmer with my preparation for game-time now. I am definitely not as nervous as I used to be. I don't get too nervous at all any more really.
"I would have had a chat with the likes of Jake Heenan. He was obviously out for a good while with injury, and we would have gone through a lot of that stuff.
"You just need to be strong-minded, there is no reason to be getting worked up. I had a chat with Pat, and he said there is no reason to be nervous leading into a big game," he says.
"It's just a normal game at the end of the day, you have done all of the hard work during the week. The game time is when you should be excited about it, and I just focus on that during match day."
Professionals have the distinct capability to be able to switch on and off at the right times, and with that in check Adeolokun has also improved physical aspects of his game over the past year.
With 22 caps for the province he has become more experienced in his role, and that has helped him to single out various parts of his game that might have let him down before he came west.
The influence of coaches Andre Bell and Dave Ellis have also helped him add a few more attributes to his all-round game.
"I feel like I have come up a long way since I joined Connacht. I feel like my running lines are a lot better now, and I am much more solid when I am competing in the air," he says.
"I changed my defence as well, with Andre Bell we talk about this stuff. My kicking game has come up a long way because we kick a lot during practice. I feel like my game has really improved but I definitely still have a lot to work on.
"Overall, I am better able to read the game and connect better with the guys inside me. Being able to work effectively makes it more natural with the rest of the backline and it flows better.
"That makes it easier to break the line, and I have a lot more choice in my game. Matt Healy is someone who offers all of those threats, with Matt he can just break from anywhere. I would like to be a lot more like him."
But staying fit plays a huge part in those opportunities to impress the coaches, and game-time at the top level only aids the progression of a player.
Adeolokun is well aware that he needs to keep himself fit and available if he wants to remain in the jersey, even with big names returning from injury.
There's plenty of rivals but, like them, the former De La Salle Churchtown student is focusing on his own game and what he can do to keep his name on the team-sheet.
"I didn't get as much game-time as I would have liked in my first season. I was a little bit, I wouldn't say disappointed, but I wasn't happy with the way it ended. I am just looking forward to staying injury-free now and finishing this season a lot stronger, and as a team finishing the season off better too.
"The only injury I got this season was playing against Grenoble in the first game. I felt very good, I felt fit and dangerous. Getting injured in that was the biggest setback for my pre-season and that wasn't great. There was a Grade 2 or 3 tear of my MCL, and a partial tear in my PCL as well. I needed to get my knee cleaned out too, and we gave it four weeks.
"But once you stay injury-free and get back into the team, it shows what you can achieve. Especially this season, that's my main focus.
"As a team we started very well. But after that the last month hasn't been great. Hopefully now we can pick it up from where we left off when the lads got injured and start winning again."