'It has given me my life back' - Ian McKinley set for international berth six years after losing sight in one eye
Former Ireland under-20 international Ian McKinley is on the verge of becoming an Italian player and he believes he owes the Azzurri a great deal.
The former Leinster man was forced into early retirement in 2011 after he lost the sight in his left eye as a result of an accident during an All-Ireland League game for UCD against Lansdowne in 2010.
A special pair of goggles have allowed the flyhalf to return to the game he loves and yesterday, he was named in Conor O'Shea's 44-man training squad for Italy's summer tour to the southern hemisphere.
The 27-year-old Treviso star is now close to a huge career milestone.
"It has given me, without wanting to sound too dramatic, my life back. It’s a huge part of my identity as a person and as a rugby player," he told Game On on 2FM. "That’s not trying to be cheesy about it.
"When I was a kid playing rugby in the back garden I imagined standing and singing the Irish national anthem, but you have to play the hand that you’re dealt.
"Italy as a federation and through their clubs have always supported me and I can only be extremely grateful to them for that.
"They were one of the first nations to sign up to the goggles trial and I do feel I own them a lot of gratitude and loyalty because they’ve shown that to me – not a lot of other nations would have shown that to me."
The focus for McKinley now turns to making O'Shea's final 31-man travelling squad.
"I became eligible at the turn of the year, in January," he added. "I have lived in Italy for five years and I started playing with Treviso in May. I got my player’s licence in January 2014 so under World Rugby laws I am eligible to play for Italy.
"For me now it has to be about getting my performance right for me and the team. I have to put my best foot forward because if you don’t have consistency you can’t be called up for any team."