Former Leinster & Ireland U-20s Outhalf Ian McKinley Reflects On His Remarkable Story
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Former Leinster and Ireland U-20 outhalf Ian McKinley was called into Italy’s training squad ahead of their June Test series by head coach Conor O’Shea this week.
The 27-year-old was forced to retire from professional rugby in 2011 after losing the sight in his left eye following a training ground accident. He showed great promise before the incident, making his debut for Leinster under Joe Schmidt, earning 6 caps.
With his playing career all but over, McKinley travelled to Italy to take up a coaching role, but returned to the playing field thanks to specially designed rugby goggles that protect his working eye. Following a stint in the lower tiers of Italian rugby, McKinley earned a contract with Zebre, before moving to Treviso at the start of this season.
Having qualified on residency grounds, McKinley’s impressive form has now earned him a call-up to Conor O’Shea’s latest Italy squad as well as a contract extension wit the PRO12 outfit. He must now work towards being retained when the squad is reduced from 44 to 31 for the Tests against Scotland, Fiji and Australia in June.
Reflecting on his remarkable story, McKinley has revealed that the call-up have given him his ‘life back.’
“It has given me, without wanting to sound too dramatic, my life back. It’s a huge part of my identity as a person and as a rugby player,” he told Game On on 2FM.
“That’s not trying to be cheesy about it.
“When I was a kid playing rugby in the back garden I imagined standing and singing the Irish national anthem, but you have to play the hand that you’re dealt.
“Italy as a federation and through their clubs have always supported me and I can only be extremely grateful to them for that.
“They were one of the first nations to sign up to the goggles trial and I do feel I own them a lot of gratitude and loyalty because they’ve shown that to me – not a lot of other nations would have shown that to me.”
The focus for McKinley now turns to making O’Shea’s final 31-man travelling squad.
“I became eligible at the turn of the year, in January,” he added. “I have lived in Italy for five years and I started playing with Treviso in May. I got my player’s licence in January 2014 so under World Rugby laws I am eligible to play for Italy.
“For me now it has to be about getting my performance right for me and the team. I have to put my best foot forward because if you don’t have consistency you can’t be called up for any team.”