Connal McInerney living ACT Brumbies dream after getting Super Rugby call
Connal McInerney was "ripping into a parmi" at a Sydney pub when all of a sudden he stopped and sat in silence for the rest of the night.
The Canberra-raised hooker was watching the ACT Brumbies play against the Melbourne Rebels and saw Josh Mann-Rea's body bend and twist in a way it was never made to do.
Connal McInerney has joined the Brumbies on a four-week contract.
His phone started lighting up with messages and his stomach filled with nerves. Then, just months after fearing he'd fallen off the Brumbies radar because he moved to Sydney, he got the message that could spark a Super Rugby career.
"I was sitting at the pub with my cousin, we were watching the game and then I realised it was [Mann-Rea] who got injured ... my cousin tried to talk to me and I just went quiet," McInerney said.
"A few people started sending me messages asking if I was watching the game. I started trying to get my head around it, but I didn't know if the Brumbies would message me.
"The next day I woke up to a message from [coach Dan McKellar], packed my things straight away and came back to Canberra."
McInerney has been drafted into the Brumbies squad on a four-week supplementary contract after Mann-Rea's hamstring snapped off the bone and prematurely ended his season.
Robbie Abel's rib injury meant McInerney was thrown straight into a Super Rugby debut against the Durban Sharks last week and he's on the verge of playing in a blockbuster rivalry clash against the NSW Waratahs.
The 23-year-old thought his Brumbies dream was over when he left the capital earlier this year. He had been training at Brumbies headquarters since he was 15, but never got a chance to take the next step.
So McInerney, a former Australian under-20s rake, packed his bags and moved to Sydney to join Eastern Suburbs and scored a job delivering new cars to businesses around the harbour city.
But he was never too far from the Brumbies minds and they called him back to the Canberra for pre-season trial matches.
"I'm still pinching myself. I thought the Brumbies book was closed and I'd have to make a claim in Sydney," McInerney said.
"Injuries are a funny thing. I've always wanted to play for the Brumbies. I still remember watching the 2013 grand final hanging all of my jerseys around the TV trying to get around the boys.
"I've always been a fan, always loved the Brumbies. But even up until a few weeks ago I never thought I'd get one cap let alone have this opportunity.
"You can never just be happy with three minutes [in my debut]. Hopefully I get a few chances and can go forward."
The Brumbies will play one of their biggest home games of the past two seasons when the Waratahs return to Canberra for the first time since 2016.
David Pocock is poised to make his comeback from a knee injury, but Mann-Rea is out and Abel is fighting to be available for selection.
If Abel doesn't recover in time, it leaves former Australian under-20s teammates McInerney and Folau Faingaa as the Brumbies' hookers for a Waratahs showdown.
"Connal's come through our pathway system and he's good enough [to play Super Rugby]. He's made some improvements and that was probably his challenge," McKellar said.
"He knows our players, has always wanted to play for the Brumbies and knows our club. He deserves this opportunity.
"It's a chance for him, with Robbie under a cloud as well, to make it clear and obvious to us that he's ready for this level."
The Brumbies will return to training on Monday after McKellar ordered players and staff to get away from rugby in the club's bye week.
Pocock will need to prove his fitness at training early in the week, with McKellar weighing up a back-row reshuffle for his return.