IT MIGHT NOT ever get the Hollywood big screen treatment but Ian McKinley’s return to professional rugby is definitely more inspirational than he lets on.
The former Leinster out-half was forced to retire in 2011 after losing sight in his left eye following an injury initially sustained playing club rugby the year before.
At the time, he went on Off The Ball show and it was heartbreaking to hear the tale of a promising young player forced into premature retirement.
But fast-forward about three years and McKinley – who has returned to play professionally for Italian side Viadana – is bossing his forwards and organising his backs from the ten channel as if nothing ever happened.
Well there is one giveaway – he wears special goggles to protect his eyes, which he says make him look like a ’1940′s pilot’.
The goggles are made by an Italian brand and were discovered by McKinley’s brother, Phillip, and they have allowed him to return to rugby.
However, McKinley was reluctant to paint himself as an inspiration for making the comeback.
“There are a lot of people who are a lot more inspirational than I am,” he told TheScore.ie.
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“There are some things that happen to you, which you can come back from.”
And come back he has. He moved to Udine in Italy two years ago to coach underage kids and after the protective goggles were brought to his attention he decided to give rugby another try.
Surprisingly he says that it was protecting his good eye, rather than the loss of vision in the other one, that prevented him from playing on.
“I got gouged twice in my good eye when I was playing in Ireland and that’s when I decided to give it up for good. I didn’t want to lose sight in both my eyes.”
McKinley was beginning to break through at Leinster under Joe Schmidt before he injured his eye. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
That was before he started wearing the goggles and back in March he made his return with Serie C side Leonorso, which he likens to J3 standard. It was an emotional day for McKinley but as a former professional disguised in goggles, he didn’t have much trouble rediscovering his spark.
“It was surreal when I found out [that he could return to rugby] and my first game back was fantastic,” McKinley said.
“My mum came over and I scored 28 points. Now, the standard wasn’t the highest but it was still great to get the feeling back. Even being at a ruck and having a fatty fall on top of you.”
A number of prolific performances in Serie C convinced Viadana to take a chance on him. In the movie, this is when the local coach tells McKinley he has no shot of making it in professional rugby, that his injury is too severe.
But if the Dubliner thought his resurgence was due to the standard of opposition, then he was probably chuffed when his strong form transferred to Italy’s Super 10.