Ian McKinley has urged those going through tough times to “surround yourself with good people” as he opened up about his own struggles on the latest episode of The Open Side.
McKinley was forced to retire at the age of just 21 following an accidental collision with a team-mate’s boot that burst his left eyeball.
The former Ireland U20 international recovered from the initial injury sufficiently to be able to return to training with Leinster, but he eventually lost sight in the affected eye completely.
“I was told that my retina detached. So, for anyone that has had eye problems or knows anything about eyes, when you start messing around with your retina, you're in serious difficulties,” he said.
“That happened to be the most painful operation. But, not as sore as what happened the next morning when I had the surgeon come to me, who was working with me from the very start and he just said, ‘You better sit down everyone, just really sorry, but we can't save Ian's eye’.”
McKinley rebuilt his career in Italy with the help of World Rugby and a goggle manufacturer that designed a special pair of glasses that allowed the playmaker to return to the field at the highest level.
He represented Zebre and Treviso in the PRO14, and fulfilled his ambition of becoming a test player, winning nine caps for his adopted nation, Italy.
But, McKinley is open about the issues he faced in the early stages of his recovery.
“Don't get me wrong, I had days where I punched walls, I had crying sessions, I thought alcohol would have helped me,” he said.
“For a week I went on a complete binge of going out every night, even once by myself, which is pretty sad. But, you quickly realise that's not the answer.
“And the biggest thing for me was just… a big part of my message is just to surround yourself with good people and they just kept me on track.”