When he sat down to negotiate the new two-year deal that will keep him with Ulster until the summer of 2024, Tom O’Toole has admitted that leaving his adopted home was never really in his mind.
Among the glut of contract extensions announced in the dying embers of 2021, getting the 23-year-old Irish international tight-head tied down represented one of the northern province’s most pressing pieces of business.
In a position where, traditionally, maturation comes that little bit further along the curve, the Drogheda native raised in Australia is targeting further strides over the course of the deal.
“For me it was a pretty easy decision to make,” said O’Toole ahead of benching in tomorrow’s Champions Cup clash away to Northampton.
“Me and my agent were talking about it and for us, Ulster has obviously been home since I was 16-years-old. It has given so much to me, I feel so comfortable here and I know how much the squad has grown since I’ve been here.
“I think for me it was a pretty easy decision to make to sign for another two years and hopefully these next two years will produce good performances for myself so I can add to that squad.
“With my goals and hopes of international rugby with Ireland, I still want to be involved in Andy Farrell’s group and be in and around there competing away.
“For me, I just want to be in the squad and giving back to Ulster for the last few years where they have developed me, been patient with me and let me grow as a player.
“Hopefully, now coming into these next couple of years and even the end of this year, I want to start putting in some quality performances and giving back to the club that has given so much to me.
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. It is such a good group of guys here and the coaches are brilliant, we have such a good connection.
“Over the next couple of years we want to be competing and win some silverware, that is our goal and there is no point lying about it.
“It is hugely exciting for me and I’m absolutely honoured and privileged to be at this club.”
As a regular in international panels and with two caps to his name, O’Toole still feels the value of learning from the likes of Rory Best in past years but knows there is still plenty of room to grow as a professional.
As such, he is already feeling the benefit of tapping into the experience of new team-mate Duane Vermeulen.
“When I first came in I would have listened to every word that came out of those guys’ mouths,” he remembered of his early days.
“When I first came in, I would always be chatting to Iain Henderson about what they did in Irish camp and how things worked down there. Obviously I have experience of that now.
“But Duane this year coming from South Africa, who are a massive set-piece team that has one of the best scrums and mauls in the world, has been huge.
“You can see that mentality around the set piece and, obviously, it is great for me. With Duane being part of the best scrum in the world it would be stupid of me not to ask questions and pick his brain about it.
“Talking to him this year has been great. I have matured and am starting to develop into a more seasoned player as I go on in my career, but you never want to stop learning and stop growing.”
It will be a real battle up front in Franklin’s Gardens tomorrow, but O’Toole thinks he and his colleagues are getting closer to where they need to be.
“(Vermeulen) has been absolutely great and between him, Dan (McFarland) and Roddy Grant it has been massive for me in taking my game to a more experienced level step by step as I have grown.
“Talking to those guys and getting tips off them and talking about their mentality around set-piece has been huge.
“Slowly but surely we are starting to feed that into games and around scrum time we are wanting to go after teams a bit more and be a bit more clinical.”