Ian McKinley pitches up as backs coach at Rainey Old Boys

Derry club to enjoy the benefit of Irish-born Italian outhalf in Division 2A of AIL

Ian McKinley is to coach the backs at AIL Division 2A side Rainey Old Boys. Photograph: Ryan Hiscott/Inpho

Ian McKinley is to coach the backs at AIL Division 2A side Rainey Old Boys. Photograph: Ryan Hiscott/Inpho

 

Ian McKinley’s compellingly unorthodox rugby journey has taken a new twist with the 30-year-old now north of the border where he has racked up as the new backs coach at AIL club Rainey Old Boys.

On the face of it, turning up at the Division 2A side from Magherafelt in Co Derry, seems a pretty unlikely destination for the former Italy international and Leinster player but pragmatism was the driving force behind recently relocating to Northern Ireland from Treviso in northern Italy.

With his contract at Benetton not being renewed and little else available due to the pandemic’s impact, which has already cut a devastating swathe through northern Italy, it seemed time to make a longer-term decision and with wife Cordelia hailing from the village of Bellaghy in Co Derry – where her family runs a successful hospitality business – the move was made.

Indeed, McKinley recently turned up unannounced at Rainey, who are the nearest club to his new home, and offered his services to a somewhat surprised coaching team.

They, naturally enough, accepted his offer to help out and will benefit from McKinley’s already considerable coaching experience – he does not seemingly intend to tog out for Rainey – which he has racked up since moving to Italy as a retired player eight years ago after having lost the sight in his left eye in the wake of an on-field incident back in Ireland.

“My wife is from Bellaghy and, after nearly 10 years abroad, I’ve taken stock and have come back to some familiar ground,” Dublin-born and educated McKinley said of arriving to live on these shores again.

“I actually played against Rainey for UCD at the start of my senior club career and I’ve heard good things about them since, so to coach them and be part of their coaching team is great in terms of starting off locally.

“And you can’t get any more local for me than this club which is just 10 minutes down the road,” added the player who made a much-publicised return to playing through wearing bespoke goggles and went on to represent Italy on nine occasions.

“I literally showed up a couple of weeks ago at training, watched the session and went and just spoke to the coaches afterwards to see if they needed a hand with anything.

“It’s all baby steps for me at the moment but hopefully I can bring something different,” he added.

“But this club is definitely a hub for community life and is pretty impressive.”

Hooking up with head coach John Andrews at Rainey has also opened other doors for McKinley who will also assist Andrews at schools level with Ballymena Academy.

“I’ve always had a fascination with coaching and since I went back playing professionally, when I was in Italy, I’ve taken a team in every club I’ve been at and most recently was working with the academy at Treviso.”

He also, notably, points out that he has not formally retired from the professional game, which might yet provide an option for Ulster or another Irish province should there be an injury crisis.

“We’ll see what happens,” says McKinley, whose last pro game was at the Dragons in March just prior to lockdown.

“Throughout my story, it’s always been a case of you never know what will happen so I think it would be rash make any sort of assumptions.”

Reacting to the arrival of their new assistant coach, Rainey director of rugby Brian Smyth said: “It is a great coup for us and we were actually on the look out for a backs coach but Ian landing in our laps is very welcome.

“He’s looking forward to it and we’re glad to have him.

“It’s massively important to us to have someone of that quality to come in at this club.”

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