Ryan aiming to soar even higher this season
James Ryan's modest approach is such that he doesn't handle praise all that well.
Ignoring the comparisons with Paul O'Connell is fair enough, but ask him about the fact that he has won all 19 of his professional games to date, and he will tell you it's a "jammy" record.
Press him on his role in Dan Leavy's excellent try against Saracens last weekend, and he suggests it was "fluky".
The 21-year-old has a bit to go yet before he matches Maro Itoje's 31-game unbeaten record, but given that Ryan has gotten the better of the English powerhouse lock twice in the last three weeks, his stock has risen.
"It's a bit jammy to be honest," Ryan says of his impressive winning run.
"See how long it can last but hopefully it can. It's not important to me.
"To be honest, I don't even normally think about it. It's been mentioned a few times but no, it's not something that's at the forefront of my mind."
The last time he lost was while playing for Leinster 'A' in the British and Irish Cup last year.
'The Big Cheese', as Leavy has branded him, has enjoyed a whirlwind start to his professional career and he now faces the prospect of ending the season as a Grand Slam, Champions Cup and PRO14 champion. However, he still wants to progress his game.
"I think I've a lot to improve on, yeah, I can definitely become much better," he insists. "I'm far from the finished product, anyway. So yeah, I can be better.
"We all want to win European Cups in Leinster, so that's the goal for me and everybody else. We've won the Grand Slam, done and dusted, and we've got a PRO14 and European Cup now to win hopefully."
Ryan was immense at Twickenham when Ireland clinched the Grand Slam and he carried that form into the Champions Cup, when he played a key role in Leinster securing a semi-final date against Scarlets.
He did, however, get to enjoy the week that followed the memorable win over England before knuckling down again for his province.
"That was unreal craic," Ryan says."I had a week off and we went to The Shelbourne and that was good craic.
"Then I went down to Galway and had a few pints of Guinness in my uncle's pub. It's Lynch's pub, it's in Clonbur, a town in Connemara.
"It's important to celebrate the wins that you do get, so yeah, it was a good few days. I enjoyed all that stuff for a few days and once I got back into Leinster, I was firmly focused on the Sarries game."
While Ryan is at the forefront of Leinster's current drive for a fourth title in Europe's premier club competition, it is the side's pedigree in the tournament that forms part of his motivation.
"I was at every Leinster final. I was in the Millennium, Murrayfield and Twickenham, they were all class games," recalls the former Ireland U-20s captain.
"The Millennium was the best one, for me that stuck out. It was class. Leinster having that success kind of makes you want to be part of it and drives any young kid to push on. It certainly played an influence for me as a kid."
Leavy's try against Saracens typified the confidence that the younger players are playing with, off the back of the Grand Slam.
For all of the pre-match detailed analysis that goes into studying the opposition, Ryan's pass to put his fellow former St Michael's College student through a gap was purely instinctive.
"The ball was just popped to me I saw in the corner of my eye there was a gap there," Ryan recalls.
"I knew he (Leavy) was on the inside. It was a bit fluky but it worked pretty well in the end.
"We knew they don't defend the base of the ruck so there would be opportunities around the fringes. So there was kind of an idea going into the game.
"We're good mates. He's someone who throws his head into anything really, so he's an easy guy to follow in that respect."
As for the origins of his nickname, Ryan may be less complimentary towards the man who ensured that 'The Big Cheese' has stuck with him.
It's from a movie 'Why Him?'" Ryan smiles.
"The character in that is called 'The Big Cheese' and Max Deegan, Deego, watched it one day and came in and randomly enough he called me 'Big Cheese' out of nowhere.
"A few lads heard it and they found it hilarious and that's how it stuck."