Jack Conan never expected the Lions call to come, yet as he reflects on an unforgettable summer he does so with lingering pride and regret.
It’s a strange balance to strike for a player who went from bolter to Test banker for all three battles with the Springboks; a real achievement considering the competition for places.
However, the Leinster No 8 is a competitor above all else and there is a frustration that they didn’t get the job done after winning the first Test.
And, while he’s reluctant to criticise the set-up, he believes they missed an opportunity.
“Do I think we fired our best shot?” he considers after a long pause.
“I think regardless of what way we went about it, we could have still gone out and won a Test series.
“That last game, the opportunities that we missed and some of the errors that we made, myself included, such fine margins.
“Regardless of how we played, we had the players, we had the squad.
“Even the game-plan which we were implementing at the time could have been the game-plan that won us a series.
“We just got a few things wrong on the big days and its those really small moments that lose Test matches.
“Whatever about the second Test, we were off the pace in that second half completely, that last Test was down to the wire and had it not been for a few errors it could have been a different score altogether and we were coming out on the right side of it.
“I’m disappointed to look back and think how close we were to making history.
“It’s special to be a Lion, then it’s special to start a Test and then it’s so incredibly rare to win a series so that would have been unbelievable but sadly just wasn’t to be.
“There’s a lot of learnings there for whoever is on the next tour in four years’ time.
“Some of the attacking rugby probably wasn’t where it could have been considering the personnel and the squad that we had, but in saying that we went out and won the first Test playing that style of rugby and I know there were probably a lot of 50-50 aerial battles and things like that we won in the first Test and then the second it goes their way,” adds Conan.
“Look, hindsight is obviously a beautiful thing and it’s easy to sit here now and say we should have done this and that. That’s something I don’t really want to get into, if I’m honest.”
Conan made his return to action last Saturday against the Scarlets, announcing himself with a 50m line-break that reminded everyone of his ability.
“I was looking for the sideline after that,” he says with a smile. “I was thinking, ‘get me off this pitch cos I am so tired’.
“It was good. It was nice to see a bit of open grass. I was dying to see someone and link up with a bit of an offload but the last thing I wanted to do was throw it away and for it to come to nothing.
“It definitely helped the confidence in the first few moments of the game anyway.”
He believes the experience of last summer will help him become a better player for Leinster and Ireland.
“Sometimes you have that little voice at the back of your head that doubts yourself a little bit and I feel a bit vindicated after playing so much and playing such a part in it all,” he says.
“I feel it’s maybe a little bit easier to silence that kind of noise now because I have a little bit more money in the bank in certain regards.
“I suppose it’s just sometimes you get it. Even last week, I hadn’t played a game, I was nervous and stressed about playing my first game back for Leinster, against the Scarlets. You kind of doubt yourself a little bit. You think, ‘Oh, I want to hit the ground running’ but it’s tough after 10 weeks off to come back and pick up where you left off.
“You’re constantly having those conversations, that inner dialogue with yourself, and trying to put it to bed as quick as I can if I have a negative thought or doubt myself.
“I just think, ‘right, if you make a mistake, don’t worry about it, just get on with it and enjoy it’.
“I’ve been better, as the years go on, at being able to deal with that mentally and quietening that voice in my head that says, ‘oh, are you ready?’ or doubt myself.
“I think that comes with experience and maybe an openness to being wrong and making mistakes and realising that these things just happen and get on with the job.”
Conan uses his journal to ward against the doubts, writing down his goals on the eve of a game which he then refers back to at moments of anxiety.
After the summer, his confidence is high and he’ll hope to see game-time for Ireland this November despite the strong competition in the back-row.
“I don’t feel like I’m off the pace or behind lads at Leinster or anywhere else in the country.
“I’m fit, I feel good, so I put myself in the best mental and physical condition I can in the next few weeks and hopefully I get the nod for a few big games,” he says.
A big game tonight against Glasgow will be another step along the way.