The elusive Ireland winger will make his first Test appearance in a year when he lines-up against South Africa at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
Twelve months ago he damaged the lateral collateral ligament of his left knee during the 20-20 draw with Australia.
It was a sickening blow to the Leinster back. But having accepted his misfortune and begun the process of recovery, the 23-year-old has been forced to re-evaluate life outside of sport.
"When I was told how significant the injury was there were tears shed," he said. "I thought it might be the end. My family gathered around me and I had to move back home for a few months. It's certainly changed the way I look at the game. You realise how fickle sport can be."
Ireland: R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster); J Sexton (Leinster), E Reddan (Leinster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), T Buckley (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), M O'Driscoll (Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster). Subs: S Cronin (Connacht), T Court (Ulster), D Ryan (Munster), D Leamy (Munster), P Stringer (Munster), R O'Gara (Munster), K Earls (Munster).
South Africa: G Aplon; B Basson, Z Kirchner, J de Villiers/P Lambie, B Habana; M Steyn, R Pienaar; T Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J du Plessis, B Botha, V Matfield, D Stegmann, J Smith, P Spies. Subs: C Ralepelle, CJ van der Linde, F van der Merwe, W Alberts/K Daniel, F Hougaard, A Jacobs, P Lambie/L Mvovo.