Dan Tuohy wants to emulate heroes of 1999 campaign
It's dark outside and the rain is doing its worst as Dan Tuohy sits down to mull over Saturday's Heineken Cup showdown at Leicester Tigers.
He is well acquainted with the Tigers' Welford Road ground and has acquired enough knowledge to also appreciate what is coming down the track as Ulster bid to finish top of Pool Five and bring a last eight clash to Ravenhill for the first time since, well, that oft-talked about year, 1999.
"You can't get away from it, this is it for us," the 28-year-old second row says, though quickly adding that, "if we don't get the win, of course, we're still in a Heineken Cup quarter-final."
True enough, but, as he readily admits, this opportunity to bring their next European outing home to Belfast is one that they would really rather not pass up, even if the Tigers have not lost a Heineken Cup home game since Munster turned them over back in 2006.
"We've got ourselves in a good position by playing well over the five games," says Tuohy who recently made his 100th appearance for Ulster in Europe's round four game at Treviso.
"But for us as a top European side, we've got to be looking at a home quarter-final otherwise you're going away to somewhere where it's going to be very, very tough."
"We had to do it last year," he recalls of the trip to Twickenham to cross swords with Mark McCall's Saracens, "and couldn't win it, so I think it's a massive advantage for us to get this home quarter-final and it could clear the way nicely for us to progress further."
He accepts that letting the Tigers escape Ravenhill with a losing bonus point last October, in round one, and then failing to grab maximum points from last week's victory over Montpellier have hardly aided Ulster's cause, but then neither did the French club allowing the Tigers in for a last-gasp win over in Stade Yves du Manoir.
What really matters, though, is that Ulster have got to this stage with five wins from five European games – the only side to have done so this season – even if it has to be accepted that this tremendous achievement is notably still not enough to now guarantee them finishing top of the group.
"I think as a squad you look at a set of milestones," says Tuohy, who has been named in Joe Schmidt's expanded 44-man Ireland squad released earlier this week and should certainly be part of the Irish Wolfhounds squad for next week's game with England Saxons.
"We've not won at Welford Road so to win there would be a milestone and then get the quarter-final here would be another milestone as it hadn't happened since 1999.
"And everyone keeps talking about 1999 because it was a great season," he states ahead of a mission statement for Saturday's encounter.
"We're in the cycle of the squad now where it's coming to the end for certain top quality players, so it's about time we did the business and won something.
"I obviously think we've a better opportunity of doing that if we get the home quarter-final." Tuohy has been a central part of the evolution of this side from European no-hopers to a side which will now be in the quarter-finals for a fourth season in a row, regardless of what transpires this weekend, so when he talks about what will be required you tend to listen.
"We were there a couple of seasons ago and it was a nip and tuck game which we lost in the end and we had a pre-season game this year so it's a ground we're familiar with.
"Everything is there for us to go and do the job, it's just about going and doing it," Tuohy says before reminding you of another pressing reason why the win is needed.
"After all, I don't really fancy going away to Toulouse, or Toulon, or Clermont or someone like that for our quarter-final."