The former Louth Minor hoping to make an impact in the Tailteann Cup with London
By Damian Dolan
If he gets the call to action in the Tailteann Cup, Dundalk man Oladimeji Olajubu is ready and willing to give his all for his adopted London.
The 27-year-old Garryowen player, and former Louth Minor, was a late addition to Michael Maher’s panel during the Exiles’ most successful National League campaign on record, but still managed to force his way it into the match day squad for the Connacht clash with Leitrim.
Although he didn’t make it on to the pitch, an impressive showing in a recent challenge match with Fermanagh means he’s pushing hard to feature in London’s Tailteann Cup opener against Sligo at Markievicz Park on 28 May.
If he does, he’ll become the first Nigerian born player to play for London.
“If I was to get on it would be great – I’m ready to do my best for the team,” Olajubu told the Irish World.
“And hopefully we can go on and get to Croke Park and my family in Dundalk can come.
“That’s the dream; imagine getting to Croke Park and my mum, my brother and little sister, and even my daughter (who lives in London), coming to watch me play Gaelic.
“That would be amazing – but one step at a time.”
Maher initially approached Olajubu about joining up with London back in November, as he began reassembling a panel for the National League.
Olajubu had helped Garryowen to reach that year’s intermediate championship semi-finals, only to lose out to Harlesden Harps after extra-time.
Maher’s interest came as a complete “shock”, as Olajubu thought he’d had his worst season for the team.
“I was basically playing unfit, with a bit of weight on me. It wasn’t my best time, but I played because it was Garryowen – the team I started playing with when I came to London,” he said.
Unbeknownst to Olajubu, the London boss had noted his performance a few years earlier playing for Garryowen against his own team, Round Towers, in a Division 2 league match.
While Olajubu was “flattered” by the approach, he was in Ireland with his family with no immediate plans to return to London. He was also trying to rid himself of an old rugby injury.
It all meant that the timing just wasn’t quite right. He reluctantly declined the invitation.
“You have to be clever. I knew that it wasn’t the right time for me – I didn’t want to let myself down,” he reflects.
“I’d have been playing while I was hurt, so I probably wouldn’t have made the team and my confidence would have gone down.
“I told myself that I should take the time to work on myself and hopefully the opportunity would still be there when I was ready.”
While Maher’s November phone call came out of the blue, the thought of playing for London had previously crossed Olajubu’s mind.
In June 2018, he was a spectator at McGovern Park, Ruislip, to see his native Louth take on the Exiles in a first round All-Ireland qualifier.
“A couple of my mates were on the Louth team and I got to meet up with them. That was the first time I’d ever seen the London team play,” he said.
“I thought ‘this is something I’d like to try’ but I didn’t know how the picking of the London panel worked. Compared to some of the other teams in the first division, I play for Garryowen.”
A semi-professional soccer player too, his other football commitments meant he didn’t pursue it. If the call came, it came. If it didn’t, it didn’t.
Olajubu returned to London in March and with a few weeks training under his belt with Garryowen, he reached out to Maher.
In his absence, the Exiles had been grabbing headlines by winning their opening three Division 4 games.
While Olajubu didn’t make a match day squad for any of the Exiles’ remaining league games, he impressed enough in training to earn a place on the bench for the Connacht Championship game with Leitrim.
“Even though that was my aim, I didn’t really believe I would make it because the boys are good. The standard was very tough and the training was hard, and I was just coming in,” said Olajubu.
“It was a different level, and I wasn’t as fit as the boys when I came in, but I got on the panel and I was very grateful to Michael.”
He holds the London manager in high regard because, says Olajubu, Maher “respects” the player.
“I’m from African origin and I’m very cultural, and I was brought up to be respectful,” he said.
“It’s always good to see a manager in a higher position than you, who shows you that same value.
“When you respect your manager and he calls upon you, you’re ready to go into battle for him. I’m just waiting on the opportunity to go into battle.”
Had he played against Leitrim, one section of the crowd would have been very happy – Olajubu had plenty of family support at Ruislip that afternoon.
For most of them, it was their first taste of a Gaelic football match.
“All of my uncles grew up in Nigeria and their kids, who grew up here, would be more familiar with soccer,” he says.
But his cousin, Tobi Ogundega, who plays soccer for MK Dons Under 18s, has togged out as a goalkeeper for Garryowen the odd time.
“I was excited that they came to watch the game, and they enjoyed it. The only thing that was missing that day was that they didn’t get to see me play,” said Olajubu.
“They were amazed by the amount of fans at the game, and the atmosphere.”
On that occasion he wasn’t one of the five substitutes used by Maher.
“It wasn’t meant to be. Maybe the next game I will make my [first competitive] appearance,” he adds.
Born in Ajegunle, Lagos, in Nigeria, Olajubu came to Ireland when he was ten. He and his older brother joined their mother and sister, who’d had already been in the country for three years.
The family was reunited at the Direct Provision centre in Mosney in Co Meath (it used to be the Butlin’s Holiday camp many years ago).
Olajubu attended Whitecross Primary School in Julianstown where he was introduced to Gaelic football.
Struck by the skill and ability of some his classmates, he secretly practiced GAA.
When the family received confirmation that they could remain in Ireland, they moved to Balbriggan in north county Dublin where Olajubu was enrolled at St Molaga’s School.
Coaches from the local GAA club, O’Dwyers GAA, coached there and one of them told him he was ‘a natural’.
“I wasn’t really aware of the rules, but they saw the way I soloed the ball,” he recalled in a 2018 interview with the Irish World.
Olajubu started training with O’Dwyers and helped St Molaga’s reach a Leinster schools final at Parnell Park.
When the family moved to Dundalk, he attended O Fiaich College secondary school.
A friend introduced him to the local GAA club, Clan Na Gael, whom he helped win an Under 16 championship and league double.
Swiftly elevated to the college’s Minor team, Olajubu’s performances brought him to the attention of the Louth Minor manager and he remembers playing against Meath and Kildare.
He became the first black captain to lead a side to Leonard Cup success – a prestigious schools competition in Louth.
His studies then took priority after that. Louth Under 21s expressed interest, but injury got in the way.
Olajubu continued to play senior for Clan Na Gael and in 2012 helped them reach a Louth intermediate championship final, only to lose out to O’Connell’s by two points.
In 2016 Oladimeji arrived in London where a chance meeting with a former O’Connell’s adversary and Louth footballer, Cian Doyle, led to Doyle passing Olajubu’s number on to Sean Igoe – the driving force behind Garryowen.
The recent challenge match with Fermanagh gave Olajubu the opportunity to wear a London jersey – although the London bus did leave the hotel without him before his absence was noted and prompted a quick about-turn.
“It was nice, but it hasn’t really hit me yet that I’m playing on the county panel,” he says.
His own fiercest critic, a “little hamstring nibble” prevented Olajubu from playing the full game.
“Although the boys and coaches felt like I did ok, I wasn’t impressed with my performance,” he says.
“My man got away from me one or two times and I did pull up. I would have liked to have played the full game and dominated my man, and to bring more into the game going forward.
“That’s my perfect game; dominate my man from start to finish, create something going forwards and maybe get a point or two.
“Be a threat going forwards for my team and make our defence stronger.”
For now, Gaelic football is clearly very much to the forefront of Olajubu’s mind.
The semi-professional soccer career is having to take a back seat for the Middlesex University Sports Science graduate, who can list Hayes and Yeading, Southall FC, Berkhamsted FC, Hemel Hempstead Town FC among his former clubs.
“Soccer managers are always going to be on to me, but right now I’m focusing on Gaelic and we’ll see where that takes me,” he says.
“In the past, I’ve done a lot of things (different sports) and burnt the candle at both ends.
“Right now, the Gaelic has all my time – I’m not focussed on anything else.”
It could take him all the way to Croke Park.