Ian McKinley, the former Irish U20 player who overcame the loss of sight in his left eye to play international rugby for Italy, has announced his final retirement from the sport at the age of 31. The fly-half won nine caps for the Azzurri after campaigning for the wearing of specially-manufactured goggles to be permitted.
Few players have taken a more inspiring route to the Test arena than McKinley who was initially forced to retire 10 years ago when, during a game in his native Dublin, his left eyeball was perforated and his retina detached. Having moved to Italy to coach, however, he began to play again for Leonorso in Italy’s third division and, in his distinctive goggles, went on to represent Viadana, Zebre and Benetton as well as the national team.
Now living in Northern Ireland with his wife Cordelia, who is from Derry, and coaching at a local club, McKinley has confirmed he has played his last game after leaving Benetton at the end of last year. Having understandably found his first injury-enforced retirement “very hard to accept”, he says he is now walking away “happily this time on my own terms.”
In particular he is delighted to have given fresh hope to other partially sighted rugby players. “By helping to bring into law the worldwide use of Rugby Goggles, it has been an incredible joy to see thousands of other visually impaired players enabled to play rugby,” said McKinley. “This will always give me an enormous sense of achievement and pride.
“I want to sincerely thank all the teams, coaches and staff that I have been a part of. I am also particularly grateful to those in Italy who gave me a second chance and of course the Italian national team.
“I also want to thank the rugby community in Ireland and Italy especially, who have been incredibly supportive in my playing journey from beginning to end. And to the teammates who have become friends for life. But mostly I’d like to thank my amazing wife, family and friends who have lifted me up in my darkest days and have supported me unconditionally throughout my playing career. I look forward to what the future holds.”
The former England wing Chris Ashton will attend a virtual disciplinary hearing on Wednesday after being sent off for dangerous play against his former club Northampton on Saturday. Bath’s Tom Dunn and Will Muir also have cases to answer following their side’s loss to London Irish, having been sent off and cited respectively.