McKinley ready to continue 'amazing story' on RDS return
Published 30/08/2016 | 02:30
The easy decision would have been to call it a day but Ian McKinley's resilience is such that he refused to be told that he would never play the game he loved again.
Six years on from the losing the sight in his left eye following a freak accident while playing for UCD, McKinley is in line to make his return at the RDS for his new club Treviso.
The 26-year old has battled his way back from repeated setbacks, and behind the scenes the amount of work that he has done to ensure that players across Europe can play with specially designed protective goggles should not be understated.
McKinley was unable to play on Irish soil until the IRFU were accepted onto the World Rugby goggle trial, but having had their application accepted in February, the out-half can finally make his long-awaited return.
Last season, he featured three times for Zebre as a 'permit player', including starting in the Pro12 against Leinster in Parma.
As a player, Leo Cullen watched the highly-regarded McKinley progress through the Leinster Academy but now he is plotting how to stop him, should he feature for Treviso's visit to Dublin on Friday.
"Ian is a special kid - really special," Cullen said. "When he was here with the Academy, I was still playing at that stage, and there was just something very special about his personality.
"I'd say it was hard for him to process at the time.
"He has gone away, started doing a bit of coaching, and is back playing, to the stage where he is now a contracted player with Treviso.
"It's an amazing story, really, but it just shows the drive and determination the guy has. He wouldn't take no for an answer."
Noel Reid played plenty of his schools rugby at out-half and once upon a time would have been seen as one of McKinley's main rivals for the Leinster No 10 jersey.
Since then both players have gone down different paths, with Reid finding a more regular home in the centre and McKinley fighting to revive his career.
"He's a really talented player, he's got a good all-round game. His kicking's really good, a nice left boot. He's pretty attacking too, with a strong attacking mindset," said Reid.
"He's a general of a 10, he controls teams. He's done that from a young age. I was in the Academy when he was injured, it was obviously tough for him but it's great to see him back now."
Newly appointed Treviso coach Kieran Crowley also hailed McKinley's character.
"Because he's been out of that level for a couple of years, he is still coming to terms a little bit with the decision-making around it, but I certainly see him as a genuine option for us moving forward," Crowley said.
"To come back from what he's experienced is a massive effort and you wouldn't know he's had that except for the goggles he wears. It's big credit to him and he's part of our leadership group, so he's certainly adding."
Leinster will be aiming to hit the ground running against a Treviso outfit who finished bottom of the table last season.
Cullen's side have three tough pre-season games under their belt and although he was disappointed with the manner in which his side leaked five tries against Bath last Friday, he is optimistic about the season.
"We tried to address a few things after Gloucester and we were repeating some of the same mistakes," he conceded.
"Overall we are getting guys game-time, we are seeing a lot of players and we have a clearer picture.
"We will look to keep the ball alive as much as we possibly can and look to play because that is an important part of what Leinster is about.
"We still have a lot of players integrating back over the course of the next few weeks and it will hopefully lead to a very competitive environment as we go into Europe again."
The province are still looking for a new defence coach to replace Kurt McQuilkin and Cullen also refused to rule out signing another centre to replace the departed Ben Te'o.
Robbie Henshaw has arrived but the loss of Te'o and Luke Fitzgerald's retirement have left Cullen short of experienced midfield options.
"We are looking at what's best available for us moving forward," he said. "They are conversations that have to take place with the union as well."