Ian McKinley has confirmed he is retiring from playing rugby for a second and final time. The 31-year-old Dublin native and former Irish under-20 and Leinster outhalf first retired after losing his sight in his left eye before rebuilding his career in Italy, winning nine caps for the Azzurri.
Having played nine times for the Irish Under-20s and six times for Leinster, the product of St Columba’s College retired in 2011 and moved to Italy initially to coach. But, with the help of specially manufactured goggles, McKinley began playing again with Leonorso in Italy’s third division and after campaigning for global law changes, played for Viadana, Zebre and Benetton before parting company with the latter at the end of last year.
McKinley is now living in Northern Ireland with his wife Cordelia, who is from Derry, and is coaching Rainey Old Boys.
“Today, aged 31, I officially announce my second retirement from playing rugby at all levels of the game. My professional career has been unconventional.
“Ten years ago, I was forced aged 21 to announce my retirement from Leinster and Ireland U20s, when my left eyeball was perforated and my retina detached, following a rugby injury. It was very hard to accept this decision.
“I moved to Udine in Italy to coach rugby. After three years an opportunity arose to become the first player in the world to use Rugby Goggles and play with protection for my good eye. This return led to a global campaign seeking access to play at the highest levels of rugby, albeit as a visually impaired, professional out-half.
“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. This will always give me an enormous sense of achievement and pride.
“Following the Barbarians, Pro14, Champions Cup, Six Nations and International campaigns, today I get to finish my playing career again, but happily this time on my own terms.
“I want to sincerely thank all the teams, coaches and staff from school to international level that I have been a part of. I am deeply indebted to teams in Ireland such as St Columba’s College, UCD, St Mary’s College, Leinster Rugby and Ireland underage teams who nurtured and developed my early career. I am also particularly grateful to those in Italy who gave me a second chance - Leonorso, Viadana, Zebre, Benetton 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.”