Many young stars often have to choose between more than one sport during their formative years, but, for new Esher Rugby winger Paul Olima, the dream of competing at a high level in more than one discipline has been a reality that few will achieve.
Born in Ireland, Olima’s first love was rugby – he played for Leinster Schools at junior level – but it was in the round ball game that he was really making waves, and he was snapped up by West Ham, where he duly started his professional football career.
Spells followed at Scunthorpe, Bristol Rovers, Dagenham and Redbridge, Grays Athletic, Lewes, Thurrock and Harrow Borough, but 27-year-old striker Olima was soon disillusioned with the sport and, encouraged by brother Martin, formerly of Blackheath and Plymouth Albion, he returned to the game he played growing up.
After turning out for CS Rugby 1863 in National Three London & South East, Olima was quickly spotted by the Nigeria Sevens selectors, and he played for the African nation last summer.
Having turned his back on football, Olima quickly became a firm fixture in the Nigerian set-up, and, after appearing at Molesey Road for a Nigeria XV outfit, was introduced to Esher CEO Mike Schmid. After turning out a couple of times for the Club’s sevens side, the Golden Lions, Olima was invited to pre-season training with the senior group, where he has impressed with his insatiable appetite to learn.
Scoring on his debut in the opening pre-season tie against Dorking, Olima has set his sights on lighting up National One this coming season.
“I’ve absolutely loved my time at the Club so far, and the boys and the coaches have been absolutely brilliant with me,” he said.
“Rugby was always my passion growing up but the opportunity to earn a living playing professional sport was something I couldn’t turn down, hence my background in football.
“However, in the past year or so, I’d started to feel a little disengaged with it all and having played with my brother for Nigeria, the lure of rugby was one I couldn’t resist.
“The opportunity I have at Esher is huge. I know I still have a long way to go in terms of my game understanding and experience, but I feel I’ve got the raw materials to be a success at this level. Physically I know I can handle myself so it’s now just a case of putting my head down and getting to grips with tactics and game plans.
Olima, who was in scintillating form as the Golden Lions won the Surrey Sevens on home turf, is under no illusions as to what it will take just to make the match-day 20, but has every belief in his ability.
“We have some unbelievably talented back-three guys in the squad; Wrighty is unplayable when he wants to be and Anders is one of the quickest in this league.
“I hope I can play as big a part as they will play, though, and if we play with a high-tempo and intensity, I know that the fluidity that will generate with will suit me down to a tee.”