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Dublin: 10°C Sunday 9 May 2021

McKinley bunkered but buoyant with new skills on his mind more than new contract

The Italian international is holed up in Treviso and keeping his mind and body as busy as possible.

McKinley playing for Benetton in this year's GUINNESS PRO14.
McKinley playing for Benetton in this year's GUINNESS PRO14.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

ALONG WITH STAYING as present as possible, upbeat and in step with some semblance of a routine, one of the most salient pieces of advice offered to athletes in this lockdown period is to upskill.

Any rigorous routine can wear thin when there are no fresh ingredients added to the mix, so figuring out a new technique, a new skill can bring a very welcome stimulus to keep the brain on its toes.

For Ian McKinley, eight years on from his move to Italy, the time came for him to learn to make his own pasta.

The Azzurri international by way of Dublin is holed up in an eighth-floor apartment four weeks on from the weekend move that put 16 million people in northern Italian provinces under lockdown. He can head out for necessary provisions and get the dog walked, but otherwise life right now involves passing with as much purpose and intent as possible.

To add some cardio to his daily workout regime he can descend the stairs and run around the apartment block. He clocks himself at 20 seconds for a lap around the parked cars.

“So if you do that about 50 times that’s usually your fitness,” McKinley says cheerfully down camera lens of his laptop.

“I managed to grab a few weights from the gym in Benetton. The coaches have been good in sending programmes.

ian-mckinley Source: Ryan Hiscott/INPHO

“That’s important more just for your mind. Because if you’re cooped up in a house or apartment all day, your mind will go ballistic.

“The weather’s been good, it’s only rained one day. The rest of the time it’s been sunny, so if you have a balcony or something you can get out and try to enjoy it as best you can.”

Indoors, McKinley’s wife Cordelia is busy writing a blog about the experience which has been picked up by the Belfast Telegraph. He works through the day by breaking the time down into three sections.

He notices his appetite is far less voracious now than when he is in full-on training mode, but meals still retain an all-important role.

“The biggest thing for me is cooking. I love cooking. Eight years here and I didn’t know how to make pasta which is crazy so I learned how to make that properly, also baking, reading, writing, things you necessarily didn’t think about.

“My wife has written a blog. And a couple of hours on the Playstation here and there don’t go amiss.”

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ian-mckinley McKinley during the August Test against Ireland. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The 30-year-old grows a little sheepish with a follow-up question about his video game habits, but he borrowed the console from Australian team-mate Dean Budd just in time to put his old skills to use.

“I hadn’t had one for about 12 years. So getting back some childhood memories.  It’s probably not a good thing, but it passes a couple of hours in the day.”

McKinley, who battled rugby’s rules and regulations to earn the right to play rugby with protective goggles after a freak 2011 training ground accident left him without sight in his left eye, maintains a relative sanguine approach to his current debacle. His contract with Benetton is due to run out this summer. In normal circumstances, that would mean playing to earn a renewal or reaching out across Europe to find an alternative employer.

But these are far from normal times and though his world has shrunk to the size of his apartment over the past month, he has no trouble maintaining a big-picture mindset.

“I think the biggest thing is not having clarity. But again, you’re not the only one in that situation, there’s so many. I would consider myself fairly lucky in the situation I am.

“Some people… (run) their own business and they’re really struggling. I know so many people here and in Ireland that unfortunately, their businesses have had to shut down or have completely closed. They’ve had to let lots of people go from their work.

“Like anyone, it’s just the not knowing. The best thing I can say to you in this situation is just across the bridge, whenever it comes, there’s no point in trying to guess.

“Because people literally don’t know and it’s a very valid reason for not knowing.”

“We’re all in the same boat, I think, just trying to keep your mental state as best as possible is just so important.

“Easier said than done, absolutely, but I think just taking things day by day and whatever little objectives you have that you mightn’t have had time to have done in this period, it is a good time to try to focus on those things. To give yourself some sort of breathing space in your head.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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