The 25-year-old has had a busy few weeks since his late call-up to Andy Farrell’s Ireland Autumn Nations Cup squad and making his international debut against Scotland.
Can you reflect on the last month and your first appearance for Ireland?
It’s been a crazy month! I never expected to get a call-up into camp, so that was a welcome surprise. I had a couple of nervous weeks trying to make sure I learned everything and managed to put forward the best picture of myself that I could. I was happy with how I went in the first couple of days. All the lads were so supportive; if I needed any help, they were there for me, so that was brilliant.
My debut was incredibly special. It’s been an ambition of mine for a long time and to finally get out there was awesome. I don’t think it’s really hit home just yet; it was under weird circumstances with no crowd. It would’ve been great to have family in the stands but hopefully there’ll be another game in the future and they’ll be there.
You have made it to this point via a road less travelled – how do you feel about your decision to move to Ulster?
I never doubted that I made the right choice to move to Ulster. As soon as I got the call to ask if I wanted to come up and play an ‘A’ game, I was all for it. I talked with Tony (Smeeth) from Trinity about wanting to be a professional rugby player, and we discussed ways of trying to get there, so it seemed like a good opportunity to get my foot in the door. I jumped at the chance and I’ve enjoyed every moment since.
What is the mood in the squad following the game against Toulouse?
We’re disappointed. With big games like that, you always want to win. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we back ourselves to win those kinds of games. We were disappointed not to get the result we needed, but it was a good performance from us. We had opportunities when we could have got a couple more scores, it would have been a different game. We will just have to take our learnings from it; we’re going into a huge game this week so we can’t afford to dwell on the Toulouse game for too long and feel sorry for ourselves. We just have to get on with it now.
Your time with Ulster has coincided with this home run. How strange a feeling was it to lose at home after such a long time?
It was very weird. I was buzzing coming in for a home Friday night fixture against a big French team coming to town on a class, wet night. I was thinking it couldn’t get any better; the stage is set here, but that happens. We knew it would have to end at some stage, but it’s important we start putting in wins back-to-back and hopefully build towards another good run. Good teams come but we don’t want them thinking it’s an easy place to come here so we’ll be keen to make sure we get more wins here again.
What’s the main focus to go away and get a result against teams like Gloucester at Kingsholm?
What’s been huge for us is making sure we’re playing our game and not being influenced by the team we’re playing. We go there to play rugby with our philosophy. With no fans, it’s a completely different atmosphere. It’s even more important because it’s so much easier to go and force your game if there isn’t a crowd to get behind the team to lift them. As long as we’re getting our game right, it makes those away fixtures a bit less daunting.