Ian McKinley wants to return to the Pro12 – but rugby laws mean he can’t play in Ireland

IAN MCKINLEY JUST keeps getting better. When the former Leinster out-half returned to rugby last year, two years after retiring after losing sight in his left eye, he started out small.

He played for Leonarso in Serie C in Italy. 28 points on his debut was a spectacular beginning and soon he was playing for Viadana in Italy’s Super 10. And last night he fulfilled the dream of most young rugby players when he came off the bench for the Barbarians in their friendly against Heriots in Scotland.

McKinley’s rise has been so fast that it begs the question, does he think he could one day return to the Pro12?

There is no doubt that the Dubliner thinks he can play at that level once more, but the big issue that is preventing his ascension is that the protective goggles he wears are not allowed in Ireland.

“I’ve been in talks with a few [Pro12] teams but I can’t play in Ireland, England or France because the goggles are banned,” McKinley said to The42.

“Clubs are reluctant to invest their money in someone who can’t play all the games.”

Were McKinley to return to the league, it would be one of rugby’s most remarkable stories. Irish rugby fans have been very supportive of him on his journey back to the game, and he is very appreciative of all the messages he has gotten.

McKinley scored a try against Treviso in the Pro12 in 2011. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I get huge confidence from it but I don’t want any sympathy,” McKinley said.

“I don’t think it is sympathy any more and people are seeing that this guy is serious about coming back and playing to a high level.”

If you remember McKinley from his Leinster days, then you’ll know that his play-making abilities are perfectly suited to the swashbuckling style of the Barbarians. It was a fairly one-sided affair – the Baa-Baas won 97-31 – but McKinley enjoyed it immensely.

Getting the backing of such an illustrious team was a sure sign that McKinley’s form was progressing in the right direction.

“I’ve known for a few months that I would be playing so it was good to get it out in the open last week,” McKinley said.

“I grew up watching clips of the Barbarians from the 70′s so it was a dream come through for me and a real honour.

“I wouldn’t have gotten a call-up if they didn’t think I was good enough,” he continued.

“It was a great vote of confidence for me. It was my first time playing outside of Italy with the goggles so it was good to make it a bit more global.”

His comeback has gone better than he could have probably dreamed, but McKinley knows that it is still an on-going progress. After all, he is the only guy out on the field playing with the use of just one eye, and that still poses problems.

He says that he does various exercises to improve his peripheral vision. Stuff like catching tennis balls either side of him is a big help, he says. He has three games to go in his first full season back with Viadana, and it will be interesting to see how much his game can grow.

“You learn something new every game you play with the goggles,” McKinley said.

“I have played every league game this season and my kicking has improved and I’ve gotten a few tries under my belt in recent weeks. If I can complete a full season uninjured it would be a big deal for me.”

McKinley is a confident guy – after all, he was able to reach the professional game on two separate occasions – but even he admits that the events of the last 12 months have been a little unexpected.

“If you had asked me a year ago would I have achieved what I have achieved I probably would have said no, but I’m a very optimistic person,” McKinley said.

“I don’t want to be seen as at rugby player with the injury, I want to be taken on my merits.”

‘You need 2 eyes to play but I seem to be doing okay with just one’ – Ian McKinley’s rugby returnIan McKinley will play for the Barbarians four years after losing sight in one eye

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