Ex-Banbridge Academy student Alex Thompson is hoping his involvement with Ireland U20s Rugby World Cup squad can act as a springboard to success.
The Second Row started every match in Italy as Ireland finished seventh in the tournament.
He said: “It was quite humbling to start every game as I was excited just to be in the squad.
“I’m going into my second year at the Ulster Academy now so I want to push on this season and hopefully one day start making Ulster’s senior squad.”
The 19-year-old is not getting ahead of himself and knows a lot of hard work lies ahead before he lines out for Ulster and Ireland..
He said: “Let’s take one step at a time. I’m certainly not going after O’Connell’s shirt just yet.
“There are a lot of good players ahead of me in the pecking order but hopefully I’ll get my chance in the next few years.”
Ireland placed seventh overall in the tournament after coming through a tough group involving Argentina, Scotland and New Zealand.
The boys in green triumphed 18-16 over Argentina and 24-20 against Scotland but were beaten 25-3 by New Zealand.
They then lost 22-12 to Wales in a fifth place semi-final before recording a 17-9 victory over Scotland to secure seventh place.
Alex reflected on the team’s performance at the tournament.
He said: “It was a tough group. Argentina were new opposition for us and Scotland had beaten us in the Six Nations.
“Then New Zealand was the big one It’s a dream to play against the All Blacks.”
He continued: “We were very flat after the loss to New Zealand, where we had geared ourselves up to play to the peak of our ability.
“If you switch off in international rugby you’ll get punished. We took our eye off the ball and Wales took full advantage.”