Ian McKinley glad his Italy selection was based on merit and not sympathy

Ian McKinley has played for Benetton Treviso, Leinster and Zebre during his career
Ian McKinley has played for Benetton Treviso, Leinster and Zebre during his career

Benetton Treviso fly-half Ian McKinley is upbeat ahead of his international debut after he was called up to the Italy squad ahead of the autumn internationals.

McKinley was forced to retire with a lost eyesight six-years back during his stint with Leinster in 2011 when he sustained a blow to his left eye but returned back to action despite blindness in one eye using specially manufactured goggles.

The 27-year-old returned from his retirement in 2014 during a stint with Viadana and later switched to Zebre and Benetton Treviso in subsequent years. He had to effectively alter his game with regards to the position of the ball and kicking style considering he could not visualise on his left eye.

Recalling the injury phase and his retirement at the age of just 21, McKinley said: "A lot of sports people want to stop on their own merits," he told ESPN in an exclusive interview.

"If you look at Bjorn Borg, he wanted to stop at 26 and then you have people like Brad Thorn who stop at 41. But at least they get to determine when they stopped. I didn't want to stop at 21.

"From a professional point of view it was probably the worst thing that could've happened to me. In the general aspect of the world it is not the worst thing to happen to anyone.

"I still have vision in my other eye, I still have two functional legs, arms and a brain. I count myself very lucky that I haven't had other injuries.”

McKinley also added that it was tough to remain on the sidelines and watch the success of his Ireland and Leinster teammates considering he could not play the game.

"When you are talking about the darker period [it was when] my brother was over visiting me. There was a particular Leinster game where they walloped Wasps in the Challenge Cup. I just remember loads of my mates were playing that day.

"I never actually watched rugby when I stopped playing. I didn't watch anything but I would read reports. I just remember reading the report and seeing all the names of the guys I played with and it hit me really, really hard.

"I am always happy to see my mates, who I grew up with do well, but it was really difficult when I wasn't playing. From a selfish point of view, looking at them and their successes, it was quite difficult for me to take. They are doing unbelievably well, with Leinster or Ireland, but I wanted that."

The former Ireland Under 20 was also delighted that his selection for Italy on residency grounds came on merit and not sympathy.

“I am humbled. But the thing I am most happy with is that it is not a sympathy pick.

"I wanted to be picked on merit. I think people are progressively getting away from that image of Ian as the guy with the goggles. Now it is just Ian McKinley. That has been a big challenge for me but I think people are starting to say that which is good."

Italy will face Fiji, Argentina and South Africa in their autumn internationals.


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