Monday 19 March 2018

'It has given me my life back' - Ian McKinley set for international berth six years after losing sight in one eye

Ian McKinley has been called up to the Italy squad
Ian McKinley has been called up to the Italy squad Newsdesk

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."

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