Brisbane Lions ruckman standing tall
HE'S formed an imposing ruck union with Stef Martin for the past two years, aiding the Brisbane Lions' surge into premiership contention.
But on Saturday night, Oscar McInerney will link with fellow tyro Archie Smith for the first time in the AFL when the Lions host West Coast at the Gabba.
With the evergreen Martin, 33, sidelined with knee soreness, Smith, 24, joins McInerney, 25, in the line-up for what will be his 12th game in five seasons.
McInerney, 25, is rapt for his long-patient teammate, who will go head-to-head with Eagles star Nic Naitanui at the first bounce - expect plenty of air time.
"We've got three rucks on our list - we've created a bond, we really work together," McInerney said.
"We're all striving for the same thing. We drive each other to be as good as we can be.
"Archie and Stef, they are such unique beasts. I'm always trying to learn from them, take attributes from them.
"Archie's jump and run, and Stef's footy smarts and follow-up work - it's seriously underrated how well he does that. I'm always aiming to contribute in that area.
"It sort of feeds off each other. You're never comfortable, you want to keep improving and add assets of the game that they do so well."
Thirty-nine games into his AFL career, McInerney is content to remain the rucking pinch-hitter while doubling as a 205cm threat in attack, alongside Charlie Cameron and co.
"In regards to chasing number one (ruckman duties), I think you've just got to try and be the best player you can be and avoid putting a number on it," he said.
McInerney was outstanding when the season resumed last week after the COVID-19 lockdown, stepping up with Martin hampered to tally 18 hit-outs, 13 disposals, four tackles and a goal in the tight win over Fremantle.
"It's good to be able to contribute, play my role," he said.
"I've just got to make a contest in the air, helping the little fellas on the floor.
"After a disappointing Round 1 performance personally (against Hawthorn), it was good to be able to get back to the basics, compete strongly."
It was the Lions' first win in 301 days, since their one-point, Round 22 victory over Geelong last season.
In between they lost to Richmond twice in a row, the second time in a qualifying final, then GWS in a cutthroat semi and finally the Hawks in the 2020 season opener.
McInerney said the club had made the lockdown "seamless" for the players.
"We had to do it the hard way (beating the Dockers), but I think that's how footy is going to be this year. It's going to be a constant battle," he said.
"All the boys were in pretty good touch considering everyone was shut away from each other. Everyone stuck to their programs and that held us in good stead."
The Lions go into tonight's clash slight favourites after the Eagles' capitulation to the Gold Coast Suns last week.
McInerney said the hosts would not underestimate a side "stacked" with talent but would look to provide a win for two club leaders in their milestone games.
Former Hawk Grant Birchall plays his 250th game and Harris Andrews his 100th. Andrews may yet captain the team if Dayne Zorko (Achilles) can't take the field.
Birchall has followed in the footsteps of former teammate Luke Hodge by becoming a Lion in the twilight of his career.
"I feel lucky we get to have Grant up here," McInerney said of the defender who played 248 games for the Hawks.
"He was an absolute star at the Hawks ... the amount he contributed to those four premierships.
"It's phenomenal to have his experience and guidance, not only in that back half of the ground but just off field as well."
Andrews, meanwhile, may yet captain the team if Zorko can't take the field.
"I still remember when we got drafted to the Lions (in 2016), he was the one to pick us up from the airport," McInerney recalled.
"You forgot he was just 20 years old at the time. He spoke so well
"He's 23 now, going on 35. He's got 100 games under his belt, (but) he plays like he's got 200.
"He's so courageous.
"From on-field to off-field, he's the ultimate professional, really good for a guy like myself, new guys into the system. He's a great role model for all players at the club."
The Eagles will be without All-Australian defender Jeremy McGovern due to suspension.