But far from being daunted by the prospect of making his debut and following in the Lions footsteps of such greats as Willie John McBride, O'Connell is relishing the opportunity.
"Every game is a Test trial. Every time you pull on the jersey you will be on trial for the Tests," said the Munster lock.
"Every time you have to treat it as a trial and play your heart out. I don't think history is a burden.
"People have asked us whether we fear the opposition because it is their one opportunity to play the Lions. But this will be my first chance to play for the British & Irish Lions.
"I love hearing that history stuff. When you think your name is being put up there with those guys it means you respect the jersey even more.
"It makes you realise what you have in your hands. I am going to be walking out with the number five jersey. It makes you realise how big it is."
With the numbers Sir Clive Woodward has brought on tour the pressure to perform will be on in every game the Lions play.
The Bay of Plenty clash is the first of six tour matches the Lions have scheduled leading into the first Test on June 25.
Realistically, Woodward will need to have finalised the bulk of his Test side by the fourth run-out, against Wellington, so time is short. But O'Connell is relishing the challenge.
"A lot of us are here because we are good at dealing with pressure and a lot of us are here because we react well to pressure," said O'Connell.
"Your goals change all the time. At the start you just want to hear your name selected in the squad, then you want to make it onto the plane, then you want to play in the first match.
"To pull on the jersey for that match will be fantastic and I am really looking forward to getting the tour off to a winning start.
"It is a strong pack. Everyone is very experienced. It's exciting to be playing with these guys."