Dave Kilcoyne hadn't yet been told he'd been bumped up to the matchday squad on Saturday, but when he met Paul O'Connell on the way out of the elevator, he knew something was up.

"Are you ready, kid?", the Ireland forward's coach asked.

Even without Cian Healy's hamstring injury, the Munster loosehead would have been togging out at the Principality Stadium as one of the reserves, ready and waiting in case of injury.

"I prepared all week as if I was being involved, so I was just ready to go," he says as he looks back on his Ireland return.

It's been a difficult year for the 34-year-old. A neck injury picked up in Ireland's final Six Nations game against Scotland in March required surgery, and not only did it rule him out of the business end of Munster's season, it also saw him sidelined for the summer Test series win against the All Blacks.

He was fit for the start of the season for his province, but had lost ground internationally to his Munster teammate Jeremy Loughman who took what would likely have been his place on the plane to New Zealand.

Loughman impressed against the Maori All Blacks, and retained his place in the squad for the Autumn Nations Series, with Kilcoyne (below) briefly in camp with the Ireland A squad.

However, the frustration of missing out on a famous Irish series win in New Zealand was overshadowed by what was a very serious injury, having had to get two discs in his neck shaved.

"It was the worst injury I've ever had," he says.

"I lost power down my hand through getting those discs shaved and it was unnerving at times, wondering would the power ever come back.

"It was a couple of months with the great S&C and rehab coaches down in Munster, and it just wasn’t coming and wasn’t coming, then all of a sudden it came.

"Once I saw a bit of light, I went with it and built myself back up and worked away to try get back in. So I'm feeling very fortunate to be in here."

From that point, the goal was about getting back into Andy Farrell's plans. With 13 appearances for Munster this season, he's already played more for the province than in each of his last three campaigns.

And in a strange twist of fate, a thigh injury for Loughman in December opened the door for Kilcoyne to make his return to the Irish squad.

And he says he never doubted he'd return.

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"I had massive belief in myself, and that I would get back in if I could get back fit.

"The saying, you don't know what you have until it’s gone, that really resonates with me now. You’re out of the environment through injury or selection or whatever, then when you get the second crack at it to get back in, you want to take it with both hands and make sure you’re in here as long as you can be.

"You're out for a considerable time, you're looking on and seeing what the team is building, what Faz [Farrell] had built.

"I was chatting to Pete [O'Mahony] the other day at dinner, everyone talks about how good an environment it is here, and it's not rubbish. It actually is a real enjoyable place to be, but that comes from the top down. Faz has got great people in, and it filters down to the players.

"It's such a good place to come in and get better every day. I wasn't involved, you're watching on and desperate to get back in."

Kilcoyne was one of two late changes on the morning of the morning of last Saturday's win against Wales, with Conor Murray also coming in to replace the injured Jamison Gibson-Park.

Those late changes never seemed to bother Ireland, who raced into a 14-0 lead inside the opening 10 minutes, with Kilcoyne saying they've become better at dealing with last-minute inconveniences in recent years.

"I think Faz likes that little bit of pressure, those situations where players drop out and you see how lads react.

"I think the squad is in such a place now, it's next man up. You see it in training during the week, how competitive it is. We said in Portugal when we were training both teams against each other, you wouldn't know which team was playing against Wales, which is a great headache for the coaches. It's in a great spot."

The loosehead looks set to retain his place in the matchday 23 for Saturday's visit of France, and says the Irish front row will need to be on their game if they're to tame the French scrum, which dominated them in last year's meeting in Paris.

"It's a huge area. There's no shying away from the French scrum, you look at the Top14, you look at France, it’s what they base their game around so it’s going to be a big challenge for us but we’ll put all the steps in to be prepared for it."

Watch live coverage of Ireland v France (Saturday 2.15pm) on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player, follow our live blog on RTÉ.ie/Sport and the RTÉ News app, or listen to live commentary on RTÉ Radio 1.

Watch live coverage of England v Italy (Sunday, 3pm) on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player.