Neil McComb certainly can’t be called an overnight sensation. After leading Campbell College to the Northern Bank Schools' Cup in 2002, eight years elapsed before Ulster gave him a professional contract.
In the interim the big lock — 6ft 7ins, 18st 8lbs of him — had studied in Dundee before returning to Belfast to play for Harlequins.
In turn that led to a development contract with Ulster and in the summer of 2010 he achieved full professional status.
To date he has represented the province 17 times at senior level. It’s not meteoric, but he’s getting there.
Last Thursday night against Bayonne at Parc des Jean Dauger was his fourth start and his only second full 80-minute shift. It also was the occasion of his first try, with his 77th minute touchdown proving decisive in Ulster’s 20-15 victory, their first on French soil. Not a bad night’s work, all told.
“I was delighted with the win, obviously, but getting over for my first try for Ulster — particularly as it was the winning try — was great,” he beamed.
The conditions and circumstances were testing to say the least — 30C at kick-off time against a Top 14 side boasting a string of quality French players who had two previous pre-season games under their belts.
“With the numbers we had available, somebody had to do the full 80 (minutes) and Mark (Anscombe) asked me.
“I was delighted; it gave me a better chance to show what I could do and put my hand up for the jersey.”
The big lock was modest about his match-clinching try, saying: “In all honesty I think it was largely a case of being in the right place at the right time. Mike Heaney made the space for me and I could see the line. I knew I just had to pin my ears back and go for it.”
It was the perfect end to a tough week of warm weather training and focusing on the season ahead.
“Just to get that win gave us all a real boost,” McComb said.
The arrival of new coach Anscombe has served to motivate him and having started against Bayonne he looks set to get the nod again for Saturday’s Ravenhill clash with Leicester Tigers (2pm).
“When Mark came in he said he was starting with a fresh sheet. He said selection wasn’t based on past performances, but on what we were doing in training. He told us that if we wanted a shirt, we had to put our hands up and claim it. For me, personally, that was good news,” McComb said.
“I’m not happy a fringe player, or with being left out for weeks. I want to be starting, week in, week out, so to be playing in these pre-season games is important because it’s giving me an opportunity to show what I can do.”
He has ambitions beyond that, too.
“If, in the future, things progress at a national level, I’d be delighted,” he said.
“At 29 I’m still a young second row and I’ve got a good number of years left in me. I want to make a name for myself and
time-wise it could work out well for me but obviously I need to put that hard work.”
And he reckons engine-room partner Johann Muller will be an aide in his pursuit of those ambitions.
“His door is always open for me to come in and ask questions about my game.
“In training I have learnt a lot from him; he’d be the first person to come over and correct the small things you need to get right when you’re playing at this level.
“When you’re new coming into professional rugby, to have somebody like Johann to learn from is great.”
And his parting shot as to what he brings to the party?
“I’m quite an explosive runner, I’m good in line-outs and I’m good in the air. Now I just want to get my head down, do the hard work and establish myself,” he says.