Given his career trajectory in the last couple of seasons, you could easily forget that Dan Sheehan is 24 years old.

For a player who now seems an established Test hooker, it's only two years since his Leinster debut, which came unusually late at the age of 22.

He's made up for that lost time though, scoring a phenomenal 22 tries in 34 games for his province, and winning 12 caps for Ireland since his debut against Argentina a year ago.

The hooker has featured in all 10 of Ireland's games in 2022, and that's likely to be 11 if, as expected, he starts against Australia this weekend.

His form over the last 12 months was this week recognised by World Rugby - Sheehan has been nominated alongside his fellow Ireland international Mack Hansen, as well as Italy's Ange Capuozzo and England's Henry Arundell, for Men's Breakthrough Player of the Year.

And having started two Test wins against New Zealand, one against South Africa, and also an away win versus England at Twickenham, he's likely to be the favourite to pick up the award, which will be announced in Monaco this Sunday.

"It was great, I've probably come along a bit further than I thought in the last year, but it's been great," he said of the nomination.

"It's a bit of a testament to the people who got me here rather than me. There are a lot of clubs, a lot of people, my family have been a massive support. The likes of Lansdowne and Trinity, my AIL clubs, and Clongowes as well.

"It's been a good year and hopefully we can keep it going throughout the season.

"It is good to get a bit of recognition for your achievements on how you've gone throughout a season. It's not the awards I'm interested in as much, it's the team ones, but it's good to also get the praise, I suppose."

Having found himself in the same age-grade rugby as Ronan Kelleher, Sheehan's career took a while to fall into place, initially missing out on an Ireland U-20 call-up, before being brought in as an injury replacement for the world championship in 2018.

Even by then his future at Leinster looked to be one more of hope than expectation. Initially part of the sub-academy at the province, he had to wait until the end of the 2018/19 season to be brought into the full academy.

In that time he excelled in the All Ireland League, first for Dublin University, before switching to Lansdowne.

"The last year has gone so quickly and I have enjoyed every second of it. Looking back over the last year, it wasn't so long ago that I was playing AIL week-in and week-out, so to be here at the top of international rugby, this is exactly what I dreamed of when I was a kid. It has been a great year.

"And I can't wait to keep going and put my best foot forward. I just found a bit of confidence in myself and my ability and doubled down on my strengths.

"Sometimes you can spend a lot of time trying to fix the things you are not so good at, but if you really focus on the things you are good at, and make sure they become a world class thing, then you might get your foot in the door. That is the main thing, getting confidence and also being injury free."

Caelan Doris, who was captain of the Ireland U-20s side Sheehan played on in 2018, says his teammate's breakthrough season hasn't come as a surprise.

"We've been playing together for a while now – he's always been capable of big moments and he's a great athlete," Doris said.

"That's always been there, his runs and his footwork, but I think all the smaller bits have grown quite a bit. He's just become a lot more solid and developed in all areas from set-piece, scrummaging, his defence, all those bits are coming together nicely as well so this solid base with all of the extra stuff he is capable of doing.

"Himself and Rónan Kelleher – I'm living with Rónan Kelleher so I have to give him a shout out as well – two quality players."

It will be fascinating to see who starts when Kelleher returns to full fitness. Last season, Kelleher was first choice for both province and country, but a series of injuries have seen him play just two games since the end of May, during which time Sheehan has made 12 appearances, bagging nine tries along the way.

That competition, Sheehan says, could bring out the best in both of them.

"Ronan's an unbelievable player. We probably play quite similar at times and the way we've been able to work together, train together – he's the exact same age as.

"He probably got a good head start. He played U20s with the year above. The two of us have been able to push each other really hard.

Sheehan and Kelleher give Ireland long-term security at hooker

"I'd like to say that the two of us wouldn't be here, or at the standard we are, if we didn't have each other because it is good competition but we are also best mates. I'm glad to have someone my age that I can bounce ideas off, who's walking through the same door as me basically."

Having started Ireland's previous six Tests, Sheehan was used off the bench in Saturday's facile win against Fiji at the Aviva Stadium, as they laboured to a 35-17 win.

This week, they cap off their autumn block when they welcome Australia to Dublin, with Dave Rennie's side coming off the back of a shock defeat to Italy.

And Sheehan says Ireland will have to be hugely improved if they're to make it five wins in a row on Saturday.

"It's massive, because if we're honest, we took a step back last week against Fiji, and I think we've been talking about making sure we perform each time we play. We'll be aiming to step it up with the performance we put in against South Africa. Australia offer a different threat to South Africa, they're quite expansive with their play, a lot of really good athletes and they move the ball quite well.

"It will be a big challenge, they're also a big physical team, we'll have to front up to like we did with South Africa. We'll be focusing on ourselves to get a better performance."

Meanwhile, Ireland's two World Player of the Year nominees Johnny Sexton and Josh van der Flier were back in training this afternoon ahead of Saturday's game after missing the Fiji win through injury, as were Hugo Keenan, Andrew Porter, James Ryan and Jimmy O'Brien.

Leinster out-half Ross Byrne has been added to Farrell's squad after Joey Carbery, who has returned to Munster for treatment, suffered a head injury last weekend.

Follow a live blog of Ireland v Australia on RTÉ.ie/sport and RTÉ News app this Saturday from 8pm with live radio commentary on RTÉ Radio 1.