Ian McKinley completed a remarkable journey to Test rugby with a substitute appearance – and crucial penalty – in Italy’s 19-10 defeat of Fiji on Saturday.
The 27-year-old Irishman was among the replacements in the Sicilian town of Catania on Saturday, six years after the permanent loss of sight in his left eye as a rising star with Leinster forced him to retire.
However McKinley, who was initially injured by a stray boot, worked his way back through the lower leagues in Italy with the aid of a pair of protective goggles he helped to design and fought to have approved by authorities.
The out-half rose from the bench on 62 minutes in place of Carlo Canna, and nailed a late kick off the tee to kill off a Fijian push.
Simone Ferrari had crossed for Conor O’Shea’s men in the first half, with Canna also nothing a couple of penalties. It’s the Azzurri’s first Test win of the year.
Reflecting on McKinley’s inspiration story before the game, his family said they’d shared the “highest highs and lowest lows” in his tale.
#ITAvFJI [19-10] Ian McKinley festeggia l’esordio in Nazionale con tre punti allo scadere! pic.twitter.com/B9iwgWjpjo
— Italrugby (@Federugby) November 11, 2017
“In the beginning, when he lost his eye, he struggled to pour hot water into a cup of tea,” McKinley’s brother Philip said.
“If Ian accepted the word ‘no’, he probably might still be coaching rugby and not playing. Even when you’re told no, it’s about still believing in yourself. That’s why he’s here – determination and courage – and we’re so proud of him. Part of this story is a miracle.”
If all goes to plan, McKinley could add the most important chapter yet to his inspiring story when Italy travel to Dublin to play Ireland in the Six Nations next February where at least one Irish family will be decked out in Italian blue.
“It would be an unforgettable day and it would be a day that would be more than just rugby,” his brother added.
“It would be about overcoming adversity, following your dreams and sticking to your guns.”