Making World Cup would complete my journey - McKinley
Ian McKinley insists that getting on the plane to Japan with Italy next month, 10 years after featuring there for Ireland in the Junior World Cup, would complete a remarkable rugby journey.
The 29-year-old Dubliner, who was forced to retire from professional rugby in 2011 after losing the sight in his left eye, is currently in Limerick preparing for Saturday's World Cup warm-up clash against Ireland at Aviva Stadium.
It will be his second appearance against his native country if he plays on Saturday, having come off the bench in Chicago last November in the 54-7 defeat to Ireland.
But his primary aim now, after resurrecting his career in Italy - thanks to specially-designed goggles - is to make the cut when Conor O'Shea reduces his 38-man squad who are currently going through their paces at UL.
He has picked up eight caps since making his debut two years ago against Fiji but faces a battle with Carlo Canna and Tommaso Allan for inclusion in the 31-man World Cup squad.
McKinley said that a return to Japan would be special, 10 years after he went there for the Junior World Cup with the likes of Peter O'Mahony, Conor Murray, Dave Kearney, Jack McGrath and Rhys Ruddock.
"When you look back, in 2009 I was part of the Ireland U-20s team playing in a Junior World Cup in Japan," McKinley reflected.
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"Fast-forward 10 years later and to think I could be possibly representing Italy there in a full World Cup, it's something you can't fathom or comprehend.
"But, at the same time, you live in the present. My place is certainly not secure. There are three of us vying for that position. Carlo Canna, Tommaso Allan and myself are working hard to make the decision as difficult as possible with that as well."
McKinley is deeply grateful for getting a second chance to play rugby professionally.
"Italy has been very good to me. I think the whole Italian Federation in itself, and I include all the other clubs that have shown a huge leap of faith, have been superb.
"If you think about it, it's certainly not an easy decision to acquire the services of a half-blind, goggle-wearing No 10. On paper it's not really the easiest thing to do.
"Going to Japan, if I'm lucky enough, could be the closing of a circle of 10 years, an incredible journey. But there's a long way to go. This journey has taught me not to think too long ahead."