LESS than 18 months ago, Callum Irvine was playing part-time rugby for hometown Harrogate yet has now made his first Championship start with Yorkshire Carnegie.
The rise to such a level has all happened unusually late for the promising fly-half given he is now approaching his 24th birthday.
However, he is undoubtedly making the most of his surprise chance as a full-time professional having made the summer switch to last season’s beaten Championship finalists from National League One, Hull Ionians.
Irvine piloted Carnegie to a hard-fought 15-9 derby win against Doncaster Knights on Sunday and handled the pressure well considering he was not even supposed to be in the side.
Jimmy Lowes initially named him on the bench but Alex Davies pulled a hamstring in the warm-up so Irvine was promoted to starting fly-half.
“It was a bit unexpected,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“But I like to think I stepped up to the mark. I’m enjoying it here. It is good playing Championship rugby. It’s a lot faster, a lot more physical.
“It’s nothing that I didn’t expect but still I’ve got to grow and I’ve got to keep learning week in week out.
“I still have to get faster with my decision-making and be a bit more smarter with that; teams at this level punish you and punish you hard if you make mistakes. But it was great to play against Doncaster and get a win like that.”
Carnegie trailed 9-3 early in the second period but powered on to take charge before holding off a barrage of late pressure from their derby rivals who pushed so close to rescuing a win themselves.
I like to think I stepped up to the mark. I’m enjoying it here. It is good playing Championship rugby. It’s a lot faster, a lot more physical.Carnegie’s Callum Irvine
“The boys defended absolutely spot on,” admitted Irvine, who was working as a landscape gardener this time last year, only training on Tuesday and Thursday nights with Ionians.
“You couldn’t fault anything; the amount of opportunities that Doncaster had we kept them off the line and that’s exactly what you want.
“The defensive coach will have been looking on knowing he’s done his job.”
Ironically, the former Scottish junior international almost joined Doncaster in 2015 only to see an ankle injury suffered in pre-season scupper his hopes of securing a move to Castle Park.
Instead, he continued at Harrogate, where he had emerged through the youth system to play more than 100 senior games mainly in National League Two, before moving up a level to Ionians in 2016-17.
“I moved to Hull last year and I didn’t expect anything,” continued Irvine, who came off the bench for Carnegie to make a try-scoring debut in the previous week’s win at Nottingham.
“I just thought if I get an opportunity I get one but if I don’t then it didn’t matter.
“Obviously I have got that opportunity here at Carnegie now and I am here for the year.
“If I keep growing and can be better at the end of the season then I’m ticking another box and we’ll see where we go.”
If Davies does not make a swift recovery, Irvine is likely to retain his spot for Saturday’s trip to newly-promoted Hartpury College who picked up their first win at the weekend against Rotherham Titans.
He is relishing playing under Lowes, the former Great Britain hooker who was such a force in rugby league but is now in his second spell as Carnegie coach.
Lowes initially led them in 2013-14 before leaving for Bradford Bulls but he returned as Bryan Redpath’s assistant last term and is now back in the No1 role.
“He’ a running back and he wants to run with the ball,” explained Irvine.
“It’s ideal for me being a running 10; I want the ball and I want the ball in space so it’s ideal for me working under Jimmy.”
Lowes, whose son Joe plays at Harrogate, has followed Irvine’s progress for some time and initiated the move to bring him to Headingley.
Sunday was the first time he had even played on the famous pitch but he certainly did not look out of place and showed some glimpses of that aforementioned running game.
Meanwhile, the club is waiting to discover the extent of the damage to captain Richard Mayhew’s foot after the openside flanker was helped off in the first half.
Tighthead prop Charlie Beech (head) and Mayhew’s replacement Richard Beck (hand) are doubts for Saturday, too.