If you're looking for inspiration, look no further than this man, Ian McKinley 4 years ago

If you're looking for inspiration, look no further than this man, Ian McKinley

It was early days but Ian McKinley was on course to make a career of it with Leinster and then, with luck, belief and hard work, Ireland.

He was the starting outhalf in an Ireland U20 team captained by Peter O'Mahony, with Jack McGrath, Ian Madigan and Rhys Ruddock lining out alongside him. He made his Leinster senior debut soon after and was settling into a role as deputy to Johnny Sexton.


McKinley was 21-years-old, and six matches into his Leinster career, when an unfortunate accident cost him sight in his left eye. In a club game, for UCD against Lansdowne, McKinley caught the stud of a stray team-mate's boot in his left eye.

"One of his studs perforated my left eye. I knew it was pretty serious at the time; I stood up and all I could see was black."

McKinley joined The Hard Yards  [from 25:00 below] to talk about his comeback and about finally making his Test debut, for Italy, seven years after the accident that almost ended his career.


McKinley was rushed to the Royal Eye and Ear Hospital for immediate, emergency surgery that was later described by his doctor as 'fairly brutal'. A lot of damage had been done. He was in hospital for a week and was advised to stay indoors for another month, less any dust or grit get in his repaired eye. He was also advised to avoid physical activity for 12 months.

Remarkably, as the eye improved and he made good progress with medics, McKinley returned to play for Leinster six months after he had lost his sight. Unfortunately, however, he developed a cataract in the eye [a clouding of the lens that affects vision] and two further operations were required.

"Unfortunately, my retina detached 18 months after the initial accident and that ended my career at the age of 21."

McKinley never lost his love for the game and jumped at the chance of a coaching role in the Italian city of Udine. A visit from his brother, to Udine, in 2013 spurred the Dubliner on to making a playing return with club side Leonorso and, following that, Viadana. On this occasion, with only partial sight in his damaged, left eye, McKinley would be wearing protective goggles.


March 2014 was McKinley's first game back and his old skills had not dulled too much. He impressed with Viadana and, with Zebre needing cover during the 2015 World Cup, he made his return to the professional game. While the Italian rugby union had agreed to trial the goggles, Ireland, Wales and Scotland had not.

Gradually though, and with McKinley as living proof of the goggles' success, the other European unions got on board. The scenes, on September 2, 2016, when McKinley made his playing return - for Benetton Treviso against Leinster - at The RDS were incredibly moving.


McKinley is now established in a Benetton Treviso side that has shown a considerable amount of fight in this season's Guinness PRO14. It was uplifting, but hardly surprising, when Italy coach Conor O'Shea called him into his squad this summer. It took five more months for the Italian-qualified outhalf to play for the Azzurri.

While there may have been controversy, in Ireland, over the likes of CJ Stander and Bundee Aki playing for Ireland - thanks to World Rugby's three-year residency rule - there has been an overwhelmingly positive response to the courageous Irishman turning out for Italy. McKinley comments:

"First and foremost, I'm hugely proud and honoured to have been able to wear the jersey against Fiji. It was a fantastic feeling.

"I can understand the controversy that is going around but my response to that would be that you can't blame the players. They're just there to play and if the opportunity is there, it's there. In my case, Italy has been there when I needed them most and they've supported me. My performances on the field will hopefully repay that faith."

Some of that faith was immediately restored on his Test debut as McKinley kicked a penalty soon after coming off the bench in Italy's 19-11 victory over Fiji.

In a career that was resurrected from a sad end to a glorious new beginning, McKinley is delighted that he is raising awareness of the playing goggles and, with any luck, inspiring others who have suffered set-backs in their life or in following their dreams.


The full interview with Ian McKinley is featured on Episode 38 of The Hard Yards podcast:


1.45 - ROG to Crusaders
5.30 - Mike Prendergast on coaching
10.25 - Will Paul O’Connell return to coaching?
17.30 - Ireland’s narrow win over Fiji
18.50 - Will Joey Carbery move?
25.00 - Ian McKinley interview
38.00 - Preview of the weekend’s games
49.10 - Twitter questions with James Downey