Eric O'Sullivan set for biggest game of his career as Ulster tackle French giants, Racing 92
European Rugby Champions Cup: Pool 4: Ulster v Racing 92
THIS time last year, Eric O'Sullivan was preparing to play for Banbridge against Old Belvedere.
Twelve months on, he has established himself as a regular in the Ulster team and tomorrow will be involved in the biggest game of his career against French giants Racing 92 in the European Champions Cup.
Already tipped by Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt as one to watch in 2019, the 23-year-old loose head prop is taking it all in his stride.
O'Sullivan has been an ever-present for Ulster this season following his recruitment to the province's Academy a year ago.
The Dublin-born forward moved to Belfast when he missed out on a place in the Leinster academy but his perseverance is now being rewarded.
Modest and softly spoken, O'Sullivan admits that he still struggles to take in his rise through the ranks, putting it down to a stroke of luck as much as his undoubted ability.
"I think, ultimately it's been a bit of good fortune and misfortune on other guys' behalf. Obviously, Kyle (McCall) was very unlucky with injury earlier in the year and that gave me a great opportunity. I'm just trying to take it game by game and put in good performances," he said.
"The big thing that hits you is being in the changing room and looking around at all the guys around you. The likes of Iain Henderson, Rory Best, you just think "wow, I've looked up to these guys for so long" and then you're in beside them. That's pretty incredible."
O'Sullivan says his primary focus is to continue to improve although he aspires to emulate Jacob Stockdale, who made a rapid rise from the Ulster Academy to one of the first names on Schmidt's Ireland team sheet.
"I suppose Jacob has shown what can be done and he's very inspiring. You can take a lot from that. he's an exceptional talent though so you have to bear that in mind," O'Sullivan added.
"It was very flattering to be name checked by Joe Schmidt but there's a lot of great props in Ireland, well-established guys too, so it's just about playing well for Ulster.
"Hopefully, off the back of that in the future, there might be something there for me but for now, my head is firmly on Ulster and putting in good performances here.
Ulster will be aiming for a big performance tomorrow against the cash rich Paris side, who arrive in Belfast on the back of four straight wins.
O'Sullivan came off the bench in the 44-12 loss to Racing in Paris in October and an Ulster win tomorrow would go a long way to sealing their place in the knock out stages.
The Dublin native expects a stern test in the return fixture, pointing to Racing's star quality.
"Obviously they have a very big forward pack so very important that we front up. Then obviously they have great backs like Finn Russell and Simon Zebo," O'Sullivan said.
"It's very important that we get or roles right up front in the forward pack, we need to look after them, then on the back of that we need to respect what they've got.
"There's been a great buzz around all week, obviously it's big rugby at this stage, knock out rugby so obviously it has a bit of sense of occasion to it.
"I know a lot of boys down in Leinster, who would have been delighted to get that opportunity, they would have relished it, so I am just trying to do the same."