'From the minute I came here, I knew it's where I want to be'- Boyle
On St Patrick's Day, 2017, Paul Boyle was part of an Irish U-20s effort that fell just short in stopping England win a Grand Slam at Donnybrook.
The Gorey, Co Wexford native started at openside that evening and opposite him was Tom Curry and the two young guns go head to head again this evening as Sale Sharks welcome Connacht to the AJ Bell Stadium with a place in the Challenge Cup quarter-final on the line.
The English flanker was one of the stars of the Six Nations and looks set to be a leading light at the World Cup. Boyle's rise has not quite been as stratospheric, but he's been the breakout star of Connacht's season and he's relishing another crack at Curry.
Having played just once for the senior team last season, Boyle is happy with the progress he's made across 18 appearances in this campaign.
Impressed with his work in pre-season, Andy Friend entrusted the 22-year-old with a starting spot in the first game of the season and he was the star of the show. Now, he's a key part of the Australian's plans as they compete on two fronts at the business end of the season.
Confidence "It's given me more confidence and if anyone's playing with confidence no matter how good or bad you are, if you think you're doing well you probably are," he says of the experience.
"So, confidence is the big thing. I've improved technically on everything the same amount, there's nothing that particularly stands out, it's just general improvement.
"Friendy coming in this year has been really good for me, he's let me express myself and show what I can do. I'm really enjoying that.
"I'm probably ahead of where I'd hoped to be. I didn't put too much thought into where I wanted to be exactly, I just said I'd go and work as hard as I can and see what I can do.
"I was lucky enough in pre-season we played Brive away and I did a couple of good things. The Wasps game was a big one where I was really happy with how I went.
"From there, I got in a few games and did as well as I could.
"It's about building on that, it's not about settling on what I did at the start of the season. I want to play a major role in the end of the season, the most crucial part."
He represented Leinster at under-age, but despite his great promise a contract wasn't forthcoming.
So, he looked west where there was a family connection already established. Moving to Galway at a young age was a big step, but it has worked out well for both parties and he's been rewarded with a senior deal.
"When I came down here first I met Eric Elwood and Nigel Carolan who I'd known from the U-20s and I knew from the minute I came into the place that this was where I wanted to be," says the past pupil of Gorey CS.
"Growing up, I always had a love for Connacht - my granddad is from Roscommon and I would have always followed Connacht. I'm loving it."
Boyle's performances have been impressive, but talk to his coaches and team-mates and they quickly turn to his leadership abilities. A former U-20s captain, it is a role he is comfortable with.
"I think it's natural enough. I'm usually confident in how I speak and back in Gorey I was usually one of the better players and that automatically puts you in the captain's role," he says.
"So, from U-13s up I was captain of Gorey and I had to lead and speak in that way. Then, going through the different set-ups and just kept going with that.
"Being in here, you're looking at the likes of JB (Jarrad Butler) or John Muldoon last year who are very good leaders and you take bits from them and add it to your skill-set."
With more and more Connacht involvement in the Irish set-up, the message to Boyle and the other young guns is that form will be rewarded with international honours and Boyle says the inclusion of Jack Carty, Caolin Blade and Tom Farrell in Joe Schmidt's plans has had a knock-on effect.
"Big time, that's the message we're getting from Friendy and he's getting from Joe Schmidt; performances are being rewarded and you're seeing that. That's exciting," he says. "There's nothing worse than thinking you're playing really well and you are playing really well and not get rewarded for that. That's not the case at all.
"You see Jack, Bladey and lads like that and we're learning off them when they get back from Irish camp as well, so it just adds a whole different buzz to the squad and we're all feeding off that.
"We're on a bit of a high at the moment, throughout the season there's been a couple of results that haven't gone our way but on a whole we're delighted with the season. We just want to finish off on a high now and get that silverware."
Tonight, he is relishing the chance to take on Curry once again. The English flanker is now an international force. If Boyle keeps going the way he's been going, it might not be long before he is renewing the rivalry in the Test arena.