Tuesday 17 October 2017

'It's probably a movie in itself' - Conor O'Shea on Ian McKinley's inspirational journey into his Italy squad

12 February 2017; Ian McKinley of Benetton Treviso during the Guinness PRO12 Round 14 match between Benetton Treviso and Leinster at Stadio Monigo in Treviso, Italy. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
12 February 2017; Ian McKinley of Benetton Treviso during the Guinness PRO12 Round 14 match between Benetton Treviso and Leinster at Stadio Monigo in Treviso, Italy. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Italy coach Conor O'Shea has paid tribute to Irish out-half Ian McKinley after the former Leinster back was named in the Azzurri's squad for the November internationals.

McKinley lost sight in his left eye six years ago shortly after making his first start for Leinster under Joe Schmidt, after which he retired, before amazingly launching a comeback in the Italian third division in 2014, eventually working his way back into professional rugby with Treviso.

The Italian side have already taken the scalp of Edinburgh and the Ospreys this season, and O'Shea opted to call McKinley into his squad as a result.

The out-half is qualified to play for Italy under the residency rule and could feature next month when they take on Argentina, Fiji and South Africa.

Speaking to Game On on 2fm tonight, O'Shea likened McKinley's remarkable comeback to the plot of a movie.

"Ian is a guy who can control a game really well," he said.

"He attacks the line. I remember sitting down for a post-match meal with Joe after the Ireland-Italy game last Six Nations and talking about Ian.

"Joe really rated him, massively rated him. His injury, I have no doubt, stopped an Irish career. No doubt. It's probably a movie in itself.

"You hear about people overcoming the odds. This is over and beyond. To go on a rugby pitch after what he's gone through, and to play as well as he does, is a real achievement."

After getting picked the extended squad, O'Shea has now set McKinley the target of making the matchday 23.

"For pure perseverance, against absolutely all the odds, for what he's done in terms learning the language - it would put you to shame - he is just an exceptional role model in terms of having that mental toughness to never accept no," O'Shea told RTÉ 2fm's Game On.

"It's a real tribute to him. He'll know the first battle will to be in the 34, the next battle will be the 31, the next battle will be the 23.

"With Tommaso Allan out injured I was delighted to be able to call in Ian. His reaction to it... he's over the moon. I'm excited for him but it's a lesson to anybody out there: never accept people saying you can't do something. Getting into the match-day squad, that will be his next goal."

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