Eddie O'Sullivan's first year in charge of Ireland - 2002 - saw the men in green rattle the All Blacks in a two-Test summer series.
The first outing in Dunedin resulted in a credible 15-6 defeat and O'Connell, then 22, came into the side for only his second start in an Irish jersey, and off the back of Munster's frustrating European Cup final defeat to Leicester.
The Limerick man's 58-minute cameo in the first Test helped him soon become a vital cog in O'Sullivan's machine - he started all five games at the 2003 World Cup in Australia.
Now recognised as a world class player and with the beneficial experience of last summer's Lions tour behind him, O'Connell returns to New Zealand with an Irish side determined to "kick on" from their Triple Crown triumph.
He said: "We've set ourselves high standards in recent years and winning in the Southern Hemisphere is one of those goals.
"It's going to be difficult to overturn the All Blacks, no doubt.
"They're unbelievably consistent and have an excellent squad of players, but there's a great belief in our squad that we can beat them.
"The mood in the camp is very good. Going to New Zealand is all about confidence and there's plenty of it flying about the squad.
"It's been a long season for a lot of the players but we're looking forward to the challenges that New Zealand and Australia will present us with.
One member of the Irish touring squad who is itching for some game-time is Leinster winger Denis Hickie.
The 30-year-old, whose early season was blighted by a right fibula dislocation, has been out of the Ireland line-up since March of last year.
Hickie's Leinster colleague Shane Horgan and Ulster duo Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble shared out the wing duties during the recent Six Nations.
A member of last year's Lions tour, Hickie said: "Not having toured New Zealand with Ireland before, it will be interesting to see what the level of intensity will be like.
"There was so much hype surrounding the Lions tour - it's very much a unique occasions for the Lions, with it happening every four years, and also the country that hosts it.
"New Zealand had such a love affair with the Lions tour - they really built themselves up for it and that manifested itself in a few ways.
"I'm not sure if that will surround an Irish tour."