It’s been a few weeks since our last player interview so who better to be our first subject for 2019 than our top try scorer, our most capped player and a true fan favourite? We know this is one you’ve been waiting for so let’s check in with Topsy Ojo and see how the New Year is treating him.
Hey Topsy, how are you settling back into training after the New Year?
It’s been nice this week to get back into a more regular routine. We’ve been all over the shop the past few weeks with Christmas and New Year but we’re back into things now with a block of 9 games.
It must be good to get back to league action after a long run of cup games too?
Yeah, it’s nice to get back to league games for the next couple of weeks. Since the start of the Championship Cup it’s been a bit disjointed.
I suppose after all the talk around the move to Brentford this is an opportunity to bring the focus back to what happens on the pitch?
The Brentford move is a funny one…It’s obviously something that’s been rumbling around in the background for a while, everyone kind of knew it was coming so to have it confirmed is brilliant news!
From a playing point of view it hasn’t really changed much though. It’s far enough off that it’s not really worth thinking about. There’s a lot in front of us and ahead of us right now, getting the Championship campaign going again.
The main thing is coming out of the Christmas period we can now get on and play continuously until about mid-march so there’s plenty of opportunity to rack up some league points and we’ve got the cup quarter final in there too!
Plenty to be keeping you busy then, and you’re finding time to do some coaching with the Wild Geese too.
I’m trying to give a bit of a helping hand to the Geese yeah. I started that in July and I’m really enjoying it! They’re a good group of boys and it’s nice to keep everything in house as we have this year. Harry Elrington does it too, I help out with the backs and he’s with the forwards, we’ve just really been enjoying it.
We haven’t had the results we’ve wanted but again there’s plenty of rugby left in the season. We had a brilliant win last weekend against Tonbridge so now it’s about building momentum and just helping the team as much as we can.
We’re seeing a direct benefit now as well with a lot of the lads in the Academy turning out for the Geese each weekend.
Yeah, if I was to think long term… rather than loaning them out we can offer them opportunities in house. The players are desperate for game time but we have a big squad and, especially for those young guys they just need to play. If we can offer that with the Geese they know they’ll be looked after and with me and Harry there we can feed back to the Academy coaches so everybody is in the loop with what’s going on and those guys get game time but get developed too!
I suppose, as you say, they’re still there at the club rather than being in a new environment as well.
Yeah, of course guys have been out on loan elsewhere too and they’re always well looked after but having everything in-house is something a bit different and unique. The more we can do that the better it will be for the boys.
We can’t do an interview and not address you breaking the appearance record earlier this season. It’s a hell of an achievement. On the other wing you had a young lad making his debut too, so that must have put a nice spin on the day?
Absolutely, he scored on his debut too which was nice! We mentioned it in the dressing room, that we had a 291st appearance and a 1st too.
It was a brilliant day for me and my family but also for Ollie too. Hopefully he’ll be part of the next lot making 100, 200 appearances for the club. So hopefully he enjoyed the day as much as I did and it’s the start of a bright career for him.
Breaking that appearance record and having such a long career at one club is a pretty rare achievement. Is that something that was in your thoughts?
It’s a strange feeling. When people say it to me, that’s when it hits me. Maybe because I am still playing and there’s so much going on… I feel like when I finish up and start to look back it will hit me. There’s not many others, at least in this generation who will do it so it could be a while before anybody hits that milestone again.
The day was so incredible though, it’s something I’m really proud of and something I’m keen to keep extending too. We’re not done yet!
Talking of extending, we hope there are no plans to hang up the boots in the near future?
I’m feeling very good at the moment and I’ve been really well looked after this year. Last year I had a few injury issues, as I did two years previous, so at the moment all things are good.
We’ll see what happens next season. I feel good and my body is more than willing to keep going. So as long as that carries on and I enjoy it… that’s the other thing, I’m still having a great time being out there and doing this so as long as that continues I’ll keep going.
When you’re not on the pitch you’ve been picking up more off-pitch work on TV and radio too. Is that something you’re looking at as a future career?
Yeah, you have to keep one eye on what’s next to come and media is definitely something I’ve really enjoyed.
I’ve been slowly building up but like you’ve noticed this year I’ve taken the opportunity when I’m not playing to work. Whether that’s with BT, Sky or on the radio with Talk Sport, to branch out and get as much experience as I can to see if there’s an avenue for life after rugby through that.
Weirdly I’ve always enjoyed and been comfortable in that environment so the more experience the better!
I guess with the coaching as well you’re giving yourself a number of options for ways to stay involved in the game.
That’s it, have a couple of different avenues and ideally I can make choices on my terms rather than being forced into a decision.
So focusing on the next game, we’re hosting Richmond on Sunday and they’re always a tricky team to come up against. What are you expecting from them?
It’s going to be tough. The league has been disjointed, we’re fighting points, they’re fighting for points… we know teams target us, they come to the Madejski and it’s a day to really have a go.
We had a good look at them today in training. Up front I think they’ll be very strong, very organised. They’ll look to have a go. All the reports will probably say that we will win comfortably. They’ll say “that’s what everyone expects, let’s have a go and if we get something great, if not well that’s what people expected”. They’ll use that mentality to come at us all guns blazing. We’re gonna need to be very well prepared, be clinical and wear them down.
The last game I as working for Sky when they played Bedford, was a similar story. They scrapped and fought, they were hungry and it wasn’t until 60-65 minutes in that Bedford really edged ahead. Hopefully it doesn’t take us that long but there’s a lesson there that if we’re slightly off Richmond will take advantage!
So yeah, a big game and I know the fans are excited to get back to the Madejski on what looks to be a good day with pretty good weather, though a few degrees warmer would be nice!
A bit warmer would definitely be nice! We’ve been really lucky with the weather, barring a day or two pre-Christmas it’s mostly stayed dry, but a couple of degrees warmer would always be nice!
That plays into our hands too I guess, nice firm ground for the backs to wreak havoc on and chalk up some tries?
Absolutely, we’ve not had a home game for some time so it will be nice to get back there and get a good solid home win to kick-start the run of games!
Thanks so much for your time Topsy. Before you go, we started these interviews to celebrate 20 years of LISC, so as someone whose name is synonymous with the club is there any message you’d like to give to the fans?
Oh wow! Just that I am very thankful for all the support, from day one. Even before my debut when I was coming through in the A League back at The Avenue, there has always been a huge amount of support. It’s been a long journey and sometimes a tough road, the club have had our ups and downs but they’ve been there throughout so I’m thankful for everything they’ve done and all they continue to do!
Our thanks to Topsy for his time, to Matt Merritt and @RugbyLI for arranging the interview and for the club for their ongoing support.