Just two years prior to making his AFL debut, Justin McInerney was playing school football for Marcellin College — for the school’s second team.
Now, a year-and-a-half since debuting for Sydney in round four last year, McInerney is an AFL Rising Star nominee after gathering 14 possessions and booting two goals in the Swans’ round 15 win over Melbourne in Cairns.
The story of the Swan’s meteoric rise is nothing short of remarkable, as Northern Knights Talent Manager Rhy Gieschen recalls.
“It’s probably the best story of any player since I’ve been at the club,” Gieschen said.
“One of our talent ID guys, Russ Gardner, went to watch Banyule in the Colts.
“He rang me after the game and said there was a kid that was pretty raw, but really talented and had some good speed with good kicking penetration.
“We brought him in for a couple of Wednesday night trainings and it was pretty evident straight away that he had a bit of natural talent.”
Success was quick to follow for McInerney, who finally cracked into the school’s firsts side as Marcellin completed a premiership three-peat.
He made his Northern Knights debut in round one the following year, and the speedster’s football journey quickly gathered momentum.
“He was a really late developer,” Gieschen said.
“He was a skinny kid still growing into his body, so it wasn’t as though [Marcellin] completely missed him, he just improved so much over that period of time physically and from a footy point of view.
“It’s pretty phenomenal, Marcellin twos to AFL footy within two years.”
Though McInerney’s game has always been headlined by elite-level running and repeat speed efforts, the outside runner also impressed recruiters through his sheer competitiveness.
“He showed some really good courage and competitiveness through his top age year, which surprised not only us, but the recruiters as well,” Gieschen recalled.
“He was a pretty skinny late-developing kid, but he was willing to put his body on the line and had some really huge moments of aerial courage and took some knocks and kept going.
“I think that’s what set him apart from a lot of other quick outside type of players.
“He was willing to get in and compete.”
This season, McInerney played four of Sydney’s first five games, and recently returned to the line-up in round 14.
And, after earning round 15’s Rising Star nomination, Gieschen expects the number 27’s rise to continue.
“He’ll get a good run at it now for the rest of the year and might end up being a consistent best 22 player for them over the next period,” Gieschen said.
“He’s improved so much over the last couple of years and he would admit he’s still putting on some weight and still growing.
“He’s certainly not short of confidence, so he’ll feel as though he can become part of Sydney’s best 22 and become a really good player for them down the track.”
AFL RISING STAR NOMINEES IN 2020
Round 1 — Sam Sturt (Fremantle)
Round 10 – Luke Jackson (Melbourne)
Round 11 – Kysaiah Pickett (Melbourne)
Round 15 – Justin McInerney (Sydney)