Italy’s Ian McKinley defended the Azzurri’s dire Six Nations record as the Irish-born flyhalf’s inspiring return to elite rugby after being blinded in one eye has been turned into a documentary film.
“Lo Sguardo Oltre – Look Beyond,” follows his life from Dublin to Treviso and is now available to view on Amazon Prime in Britain and Ireland, and in Italy from May 18.
McKinley missed out when the film was screened at the Cannes and the Venice film festivals last year as the 30-year-old was busy training.
And the Dubliner, who has played for his adopted country since November 2017, defends the Azzurri despite a 15th Six Nations wooden spoon beckoning when the coronavirus pandemic stopped the tournament in March.
“There’s a lot of criticism thrown at the Italian national team with the Six Nations results and not winning for a long time,” McKinley told AFP from his home in Treviso.
“The players know that, we all know that, but people are working very hard to try and rectify that, to change that winning mentality, but it’s a long process.
“We’re all competitors, we all want to win, not winning games hurts a lot,” continued McKinley whose last game for Italy was a 10-29 Rugby World Cup warm-up defeat against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium last August.
“You see players working their butts off day in, day out trying to close the gap and trying to get that elusive win.”
McKinley doesn’t like losing.
And ‘Look Beyond’ tells the story of his fight, with the help of his brother Philip, and specially-designed goggles, to find a way back on the field.
He lost the sight in his left eye when a player’s stud punctured his eyeball in January 2010.
The former Leinster and Ireland Under-20 stand-off was forced to retire a year later, ending his dream of playing for Ireland.
“[It’s] a story of two brothers who join forces to overcome the problems deriving from Ian’s disability,” Italian director Lia Beltrami said of the 67-minute documentary.
“Their story is meant to inspire all those young people who lose heart due to disabilities, loneliness and inner pain and never give up.”
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His career seemingly over, McKinley moved to Italy eight years ago to start coaching in Udine, in the north-east near the border with Slovenia.
But he desperately missed playing and finally his dream was realised when his brother asked a student from Ireland’s National College Art and Design to help design special protective goggles.
McKinley was soon playing in the Italian third-tier before a move to semi-professional Viadana, then to Zebre for Pro12 action as injury cover and finally to Treviso in 2016.
Then coach Conor O’Shea gave him his debut in November 2017 against Fiji, and he kicked a penalty in a 19-10 win. He now has eight caps for Italy.
But the fight didn’t end with his return to playing with Ireland as France and England refused to allow players with goggles on the pitch.
“The McKinleys don’t give up and thanks to an extensive class-action victory the battle to allow 1 500 players worldwide to play with the protective goggles no one is left behind,” Beltrami added.
The film’s premier in Dublin didn’t come about because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it has gone onto the online streaming platform and various channels.
“It’s a very strange feeling opening up your whole world to the general public,” said McKinley.
“It’s not done as a film, it’s very much a camera that’s opened up into my home, and interviews people that I know, it’s very personal.
“Sometimes you look at yourself on the big screen and you put your hands in your head a little bit, but if people get value out of the story that’s obviously the main aim of it.
“It will hopefully inspire people and show how it is to have a good group of people around you and that’s really been the biggest thing I’ve relished about this.”