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McKinley in line for remarkable RDS return five years after retiring

The Dubliner has been named on the bench for Benetton Treviso in tomorrow night’s game against Leinster.

Ian McKinley in action for Zebre last season.
Ian McKinley in action for Zebre last season.
Image: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

ON 25 FEBRUARY 2011, a lively Ian McKinley ran, dummied and kicked his way to the man-of-the-match award in the blue of Leinster.

Their opponents in that 30-5 victory in which McKinley scored a try, his only one for Leinster? Benetton Treviso.

Rave reviews followed but McKinley knew that he was operating on borrowed time.

That night proved to be his penultimate game for the province, he earned six caps in the then Magners League, before he was forced to retire from the sport on 31 August 2011.

More than 18 months previously, in January 2010, McKinley suffered an eye injury that would change his life irrevocably when he was caught by a team-mate’s boot in a freak accident while playing an AIL game for UCD against Lansdowne.

He underwent a number of operations which led to 70% of his vision being restored in his damaged eye, but it was only a short-term solution.

McKinley’s left eye eventually failed him and after his good eye was the subject of gouging attempts by opposition players on two occasions, he decided playing rugby wasn’t worth the risk of going totally blind.

The former St Columba’s College student’s passion for the game saw him start coaching in Italy to sate his rugby appetite, but it was the invention of the Raleri protective goggles that really got his stomach rumbling.

A progression through the ranks in Italy and a victory in his battle to get rugby unions to join the World Rugby trial of the Raleri goggles has returned McKinley to home turf as a professional rugby player, but in the away dressing room.

Tomorrow night, the Dubliner will be at the RDS, this time in the colours of the Italian club against whom he had his finest night in a Leinster shirt, to complete a remarkable Ballsbridge comeback.

Seeing the 26-year-old fly-half’s name among the Benetton Treviso replacements for tomorrow night’s (7.35pm) game against will bring beaming smiles to faces of Leinster supporters. This is bigger than rugby.

McKinley joined Benetton Treviso, who are under new Kiwi coach Kieran Crowley for this coming campaign, over the summer after a spell with Zebre last season, which saw him feature as a replacement against Ulster in Belfast.

He has been impressing Crowley since his 270km move north-east from Zebre’s Parma base, so much so that he has been included in Treviso’s leadership group, but Italy international Tomasso Allan has been preferred to start at fly-half tomorrow night.

Crowley has named eight new faces in his squad to face Leinster with the likes of Italian internationals Allan, Luke McClean, Franceso Minto, Tommaso Benvenuti and Alessandro Zanni selected in his starting XV.

Rugby-starved Leinster fans are sure to be vocal as Leo Cullen’s side aim to banish memories of their Pro12 final defeat to Connacht in May.

But the loudest cheer of the night is sure to come if Crowley calls his number 22 into the game. Win lose or draw, it would be a victory against the odds.

Benetton Treviso (v Leinster)

15. Jayden Hayward
14. Angelo Esposito
13. Tommaso Benvenuti
12. Luke McClean
11. Andrea Buondonno
10. Tommaso Allan
9. Giorgio Bronzini

1. Nicola Quaglio
2. Ornel Gega
3. Simone Ferrari
4. Marco Fuser
5. Filo Paulo
6. Franceso Minto
7. Marco Lazzaroni
8. Alessandro Zanni (c)

Replacements:
16. Roberto Santamaria
17. Alberto De Marchi
18. Tiziano Pasquali
19. Dean Budd
20. Marco Barbini
21. Edoardo Gori
22. Ian McKinley
23. David Odiete

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About the author:

Alan Waldron

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