When Ian McKinley was named man of the match in Leinster’s Magners League win against Treviso last February it seemed to complete one of the most remarkable comebacks we’d seen in Irish rugby.
Just over a year earlier he suffered an injury to his left eye – having been trod on accidentally in a club game for UCD against Lansdowne – and the word was that he could lose the sight in it permanently. Not only did he seem to get past that, but he restarted his career and got to the point where he was looking very useful again.
That night against Treviso he started at 10. He made a lovely try for David Kearney, and later added one himself, doing enough in 60 minutes work to pick up the award. At the time Ian Madigan had been securing the rights to the outhalf jersey when Jonny Sexton was away. Seeing McKinley’s form that night reminded you that he hadn’t gone away. He was awarded a senior contract in May – having come through three years in the Academy – but the development of a cataract has now cost him his career, and the sight in his eye.
“After the accident happened I was advised that a cataract would develop, but the surgeon was surprised that it did not happen until 18 months after the initial incident,” he said. “In May though I played a game for the Leinster Development side and I had to stop after 15 minutes because of blurred vision. I then sustained a detached retina a week before pre-season and three operations over the summer couldn’t save my sight in that eye.”
McKinley showed incredible bravery to go back on the field at all after the original incident, and that attitude will serve him well now that he starts a new life. He will make a success of it. And he will enjoy the support of all in Irish rugby who can only be hugely impressed by his character.