With double-World Cup winner Duane Vermeulen departing Kingspan Stadium in the summer there was a vacancy at the base of the Ulster scrum.
Timoney has played at blindside and openside flanker as well as No8 and, after an impressive performance in last week’s victory over the Bulls, he is the only player to keep his place in the backrow where Reuben Crothers makes his Ulster debut.
“I’d spent the off-season trying to lose a couple of kilos and slim down and I came back the lightest and fittest I had done probably ever, maybe the lightest since I started playing for Ulster seven or eight years ago whatever it was,” said Timoney. “I was sort of thinking that I’d maybe just focus into playing seven more and then Dan said ‘listen, there’s a good chance you’re playing eight as well’.
“I haven’t really changed that much and have always said loads of the skills are transferrable and I thought when I was playing seven most of the time the USP as a seven was being quite a big and ball-carrying and able seven anyway.
"So I think just trying to transfer that and I think sometimes people see the number on your back and they’ll sort of confirm their idea of what it is that you’re doing and a lot of the time it’s the same stuff.
“I tend to not think too much into it and I think some of the lads in there now with (David) McCann and like Harry (Sheridan) and Matty (Rea) and these lads who are playing second or back row or seven and eight or six and eight, I think it’s just bring what it is that you like to bring to games.
“If that’s good enough the number on your back won’t make too much of a difference and that’s how I’ve been seeing it.”
With Ulster’s new surface at Kingspan Stadium Timoney wanted to shed the kilos to become quicker around the park.
“I thought the game was going that way, I thought last year we didn’t play as expansively and fast and we maybe had done in previous years and I’d got naturally bigger and bigger over the years from just trying to hit the gym as much as I could,” he said. “So I thought - and I think – you’ve seen it a bit in the way we’re playing, as we’re going back to that playing fast, playing quick and being fit and fast and agile.
“It's more of a premium than just being as big as you can and focused on collisions.
“So that was the way I interpreted how things were going and I had five months between competitive games, so I thought it was a good time to try experimenting.”
With Ulster missing a host of big names, Timoney knows it’s going to be difficult in Galway against an in-form Connacht.
“They’ve started the season pretty well, they look pretty strong, they got some new coaches in and have got a pretty established group of players,” he said. “That combination is dangerous, and they look pretty well-drilled, we know they’ve got talented players to begin with...it’s always a challenge.”
Connacht v Ulster: (Saturday, The Sportsground, 7.35pm; BKT United Rugby Championship; live on TG4, Viaplay and URC.tv) – (15-9) Will Addison, Aaron Sexton, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Ethan McIlroy, Jake Flannery, Dave Shanahan; (1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, John Andrew, James French, Alan O’Connor (C), Harry Sheridan, Matty Rea, Reuben Crothers, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: Tom Stewart, Andy Warwick, Greg McGrath, Joe Hopes, David McCann, Nathan Doak, Billy Burns, Ben Moxham.
Squad Unavailability list: Steven Kitshoff (RWC Recovery), Rob Herring (RWC – IRFU Player Management Programme), Tom O’Toole (RWC - IRFU Player Management Programme / Groin Surgery), Iain Henderson (RWC – IRFU Player Management Programme), Stuart McCloskey (RWC – IRFU Player Management Programme)
James McCormick (Shoulder), Marty Moore (Knee), Kieran Treadwell (Hip), Cormac Izuchukwu (Concussion), Dave Ewers (Concussion), Sean Reffell (Foot), Greg Jones (Shoulder), John Cooney (Calf), Angus Curtis (Concussion), Luke Marshall (Concussion), Rob Baloucoune (Hamstring), Jacob Stockdale (Ankle), Mike Lowry (Groin), Jude Postlethwaite (Hamstring).