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'Jeepers, I remember the injury at the time and to see what he's done - an amazing story'

Leo Cullen and Jack McGrath look forward to welcoming former team-mate Ian McKinley back to the RDS tomorrow.

McKinley in action for Leinster back in 2011.
McKinley in action for Leinster back in 2011.
Image: James Crombie

IAN MCKINLEY’S STORY has been well documented, but that’s not to say the distinction of his achievements are no longer worth sharing, with tomorrow’s return to Dublin set to be another poignant moment for the out-half.

Seven years after being forced to retire due to a freak training ground injury which left him blind in one eye, McKinley is named to start on the Benetton Treviso bench for tomorrow night’s clash with Leinster at the RDS [KO 7.35pm, TG4].

It comes at the end of a week when the 28-year-old signed renewed terms with the Italian club, committing his future for another two years, and a return to face his former side seems a fitting means to celebrate.

McKinley has relaunched his career in Italy thanks to the aid of specially-designed protective goggle, showing admirable resolve and drive to go on to represent the Azzurri by way of residency.

A Test debut for Conor O’Shea’s side came last November and while he didn’t play in the Six Nations, his involvement in Italy’s squad is further testament to the type of character he has shown, bouncing back from a setback many wouldn’t even consider doing.

He has been back at the RDS before, of course, making an appearance as a second-half replacement in September 2016 and he has continued to break boundaries since, completing one of the most resilient returns to the professional game.

“An amazing story, what he’s been through,” Leo Cullen said of his former team-mate.

Ian McKinley tackled by DTH van der Merwe McKinley came up through the Leinster academy. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Jeepers, I remember the injury at the time and to see what he’s done. An incredible character and we wish him the very, very best in his career…after tomorrow [laughs]. But it’s an amazing story and we wish him the very, very best.”

Jack McGrath, who captains Leinster against the Italians tomorrow, added that he is looking forward to catching up with McKinley after the game.

“I’d be very good friends with Ian and I was very happy for him to get it [new contract],” McGrath said. “Anytime time we’re over there, I’d always try and meet up. Delighted for him and hopefully catch up with him after the game.”

McKinley, who has made 13 Pro14 appearances this term, is held in reserve by Kieran Crowley as Benetton — having already equalled their most wins in a season — bid to qualify for a Champions Cup playoff.

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Sitting in fifth place in Conference B, they are just a single point off Ulster and it speaks volumes of their progress this season that a fourth-place finish is still very much within reach with two regular-season games remaining.

The Italians have made five changes for their visit to Dublin and arrive with no fear, something Cullen knows will make them a dangerous proposition.

“They’ve a lot of experience in their team now,” the Leinster head coach says.

Monty Ioane Monty Ioane will provide a threat for Benetton at the RDS. Source: Ashley Crowden/INPHO

“They’ve a lot of very strong ball carriers, a fair bit of pace as well — in particular wth Monty Ioane on the wing who has caused teams a lot of trouble.

“Our guys have prepped well this week because we understand the challenges Treviso will present. They’ve 10 wins already so far this year, so they’re on course for the most amount of wins they’ve had in the league.

“They’re right in the mix to qualify for Europe. That’s the thing about this time of year, teams are very, very motivated and know there’s a hell of a lot at stake. It’s going to be a tough challenge for our guys.”

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