Rugby

'That Hit Me Really Hard'- McKinley Speaks About Impact Nevin Spence's Death Had On Him

'That Hit Me Really Hard'- McKinley Speaks About Impact Nevin Spence's Death Had On Him

Benetton and Italy out-half Ian McKinley took another big step in an extraordinary career last weekend when he came off the bench against Scotland in the Six Nations.

The former Leinster man's story is a remarkable one. In 2010 when lining out for UCD, a team-mate's boot caught his eye and he was sidelined for six months. 18 months later, while sitting in traffic, his retina detached and his sight in his left eye was gone.

McKinley had made his debut for Leinster prior to the initial injury and did make a comeback. During his first comeback, his good eye was gouged, twice, by an opponent. When his retina detached, he had no option but to retire.

Then, in 2014, World Rugby sanctioned a trial of protective goggles for those that require them. 24 Rugby unions participated in the study, including seven of the top ten nations. The IRFU did not.

Italy were a participating country. He went there and played with northern Italian side Viadana in the Eccellenza, was soon signed by Zebre as injury cover and then moved to Benetton Treviso. He now represents Italy under the residency rule.

Returning to rugby was always a dream but never looked like a reality during his spell away from the game. However, in an interview with CNN, McKinley has opened up on one "big turning point."

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Whenever I retired I always felt there was a chance I could come back in some capacity. But there's a big difference between dream and reality.

A big, big turning point for me was when Nevin Spence died, because I would have played with him at underage level and his story was well documented, that tragedy.

"I'd been over in Italy for seven weeks and that really hit me hard, if I'm totally honest. I can only imagine the family. I was just thinking there was someone coming good in his career, he was getting the plaudits he deserved and was a really humble guy.

"To have his life taken at such a young age, and here I was, not sitting on my ass but thinking 'at least give it an opportunity.' I'm just very fortunate that I have such amazing people around me who were able to facilitate and help me do that."

In 2012, former Ulster centre Nevin Spence was killed in a slurry tank accident along with his brother Noel and their father, Graham. It was a tragedy that devastated Irish rugby.

McKinley will once again represent Italy this weekend as they prepare for the challenge of Wales.

Maurice Brosnan

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