09.10.2016

Ian McKinley: The One Eyed Rugby Wonder

Ian McKinley: The One Eyed Rugby Wonder

The story of the former Leinster rugby out-half Ian McKinley is a tale of resilience. Even though he may never play for Dublin again, he will certainly go down as one of Ireland's great heroes.

McKinley's journey began at the age of 19 when he played for the University College Dublin against Lansdowne in the year 2010. While McKinley was wrestling for the ball, he suddenly lost his balance and fell on his back. It was at that moment that a rugby player on his team accidentally tripped and shoved the metal studs of his rugby shoes into McKinley's left eye.

The damage done to McKinley's eye was so bad that the first responding doctor felt nauseous. The medical team quickly transported McKinley to an Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin. In total the operation on his eye took about four hours. After that, McKinley was forced to rest at home for over a month.

It took about six months for McKinley to make some recovery in his vision. After achieving about 70 percent vision in his left eye, McKinley went back to the rugby field in 2011. All in all, he made six appearances representing University College Dublin.

Unfortunately for McKinley, those would be his last Leinster games.

One weekend in Galway, McKinley suddenly lost sight in his left eye at a traffic light. After he was rushed to the hospital, doctors quickly discovered that his retina had actually detached. Surgeons had to operate all the way on the back of his eye socket. McKinley describes this surgery as the worst pain he has ever experienced in his life. Not only was this surgery physically painful, McKinley also suffered great emotional trauma at this time. At that moment, he believed that his dreams of becoming a professional rugby player were through.

After this surgery, McKinley was hired for a time coaching junior rugby teams in Dublin. Although McKinley enjoyed this, he felt oppressed by the traumas of his past while walking around Dublin's streets. When McKinley was offered a chance to coach a team in the Italian town of Udine, he jumped at the opportunity.

Of course, traveling to Italy without any command of the Italian language can create some problems for any expatriate. These daily struggles were what McKinley and his fiancée had to put up with once they arrived in Udine.

It was in April of 2013 that McKinley's brother, Philip, came to Italy to visit. When Philip saw his brother's vulnerable emotional state, he knew that something had to be done. So, when Philip returned to Ireland, he immediately contacted a student at Dublin's National College of Art and Design. He told this student, whose name is Johnny Merrigan, to create a pair of rugby goggles that would be able to protect his brother's eyes. Merrigan produced his first pair of goggles in only eight weeks.

After McKinley got the goggles, he started to play for the Leonorso rugby club in Italy. McKinley began to regain his confidence as he continued to play, and he eventually scored a spot for Viadana rugby team. McKinley even made it back to Dublin, this time playing against Leinster.

Although McKinley will become eligible to play in the nationals for Italy next year, he tries to focus all his attention on whatever match is right in front of him. He is also committed to supporting the professional production of rugby goggles to help other rugby players around the world.


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