Six years on from giving Finlay Bealham a lift to training in the Ulster academy, little did Conor Carey know that he’d be battling with the Australian-born tighthead for game-time in Connacht.
But Carey (25) is happy that he has taken his chance with Bealham away on Ireland duty, and a few months on from his move from Nottingham in the English Championship, Carey is eager to become the latest Connacht prop to excel.
The Belfast-born front row has been in good company since his arrival at the Sportsground, with Denis Buckley and Tom McCartney both impressing for Pat Lam’s side. But Carey, a former Ireland underage player, says he is not surprised by Bealham’s elevation to the Ireland seniors and that he is keen to follow his path.
“Finlay was up north for a year so I knew Finlay very well. I would have given him lifts most mornings,” said Carey.
“He is a great player. You see how consistent he is at his job. I have never seen anyone that is so good at their job. I think he is the best player consistency wise at doing his role.
“It just shows you if you work really hard how quickly it can fall for you. Last year we saw Whitey (Nathan White) and Finlay, both from Connacht, made it. That showed what we are doing here and how good the front five is. We had those two, Quinn (Roux) and Ulty (Dillane) as well. We’ll see in the next few years other lads will qualify as well.
“I think everyone in the academy, you are pushing for the same thing. If you play in an Irish academy everyone wants to play for Ireland. We all have the same goal.”
Bealham has been handed another weekend off after a successful November Series with Ireland, but Carey has begun to impress in his absence. Learning his trade in the physical English second tier has honed his scrummaging skills — he played 65 times in three seasons with Nottingham and Ealing — and he is set to make his eighth consecutive appearance of the season against Treviso tomorrow.
And next week he should get to experience the Champions Cup again, and he says he has enjoyed the experience of pitting himself against the best this season.
“I didn’t think it was going to happen as early as it did for me. It has fallen well for me and maybe a few injuries helped, unfortunate for the other guys. It happened early on and then I’ve gotten to play the last few games and that has been really good.
“Those two games against Toulouse and Zebre were my first experience of it. I remember being in the academy in Ulster and seeing the buzz in those weeks. But it was so much better being involved. The buzz and the crowds, the week coming up to it, the energy around here before the Toulouse game, I have never experienced anything like it.
“I have to play well this week. I have to be competing. We have an international coming back so I need to set my stall out and play as well as I can coming up to it. We know how good Finlay is and I just want to perform myself and play well for the team. I have great players around me so everyone is pushing each other on. We are all buying into the same thing so we know this week is very important.”
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