Ian McKinley: Irish-born fly-half says a 'scary time' to be living in Italy

Ian McKinley in action for Italy against Ireland in Dublin last August
Ian McKinley lost the sight of his left eye in 2011 while he was part of the Leinster squad

Benetton fly-half Ian McKinley says it is "a scary time" to be living in Italy but believes the Italian public deserve huge credit for their conduct during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Irish-born player describes the death rate in the country because of the crisis as "surreal".

McKinley, who has lived in Italy since 2012, says Italians are now "seeing light at the end of the tunnel".

"It really is quite scary and a scary time for people," said McKinley, 30.

Italy has the world's highest death toll from the virus - 13,155 - and more than 110,000 confirmed cases.

"Sport does become irrelevant. People's livelihoods and health is the most important thing because the rate of infection here has been through the roof," added the Dubliner.

"I don't think you can comprehend how quickly it has spread here, particularly in the north. It's been crazy.

"People are taking this very seriously and I think the general Italian public deserve a huge pat on the back because everyone is following the rules."

McKinley forced to retire in 2011

McKinley was a player with Leinster in 2011 when he was forced to retire from the game after losing the sight of his left eye following an accidental boot to his eye.

However, after a coaching stint in Italy he returned to playing with the help of protective goggles in 2014 and earned the first of his nine Italy caps three years later.

Now an adopted Italian, McKinley lauds the way the country is responding to the crisis.

"There is no panic buying, people are keeping their distance and Italians deserve a huge amount of credit for the work they've put in.

"The unknown scares a lot of people and not-knowing when this will end is a big problem for a lot of people but I think people can see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel now.

"I know it's not perfect or anything, but in this three-week lockdown people are starting to see some results with the rate of infections."

Ian McKinley (right) sings the Italian anthem alongside Guglielmo Palazzani before the Six Nations game against Wales last year
Ian McKinley (right) made his Italy debut in 2017

McKinley based at Benetton since 2016

McKinley made six appearances for Leinster before forging a career in Italy with Viadana, Zebre and now Benetton where he has been based since 2016.

He could have returned to Ireland after the Guinness Pro14 was suspended but chose to stay in the country where he lives and works, even though life is challenging.

"My wife and I live in apartment and it takes about 20 seconds to run around the apartment block. So if you do that about 50 times that's usually your fitness.

"I managed to grab a few weights from the gym in Benetton and the coaches have been good in sending through programmes.

"We try and divide the day into blocks, breakfast to lunchtime we do an activity, then from lunch to dinner and dinner to bedtime.

"It varies from cooking, baking, my wife likes writing and I nabbed a Play Station from one of the guys. I hadn't had one for about 12 years.

"If you're cooped up in a house or apartment all day your mind will go ballistic and it's important for your mind to stay occupied, not to just let the day pass you by."

'You get through it day by day'

Italy has the second oldest population in the world and McKinley says people are shocked their country has been hit so hard by the virus.

"The schools were one of the first things to close here and naturally, grandchildren go to their grandparents if their parents are working so that has spread a lot of infection.

"Also, the tradition of the double-kiss, whenever you meet someone in Italy whether you're a male or female you greet someone that way.

"Normally in Ireland it's a good old handshake or a hug or whatever. They could possibly be some of the seasons why the infection spread so quickly.

"As you see now, the UK and Ireland are bracing themselves. You see the disastrous situation in America as well with the numbers there.

"It's just something that you need to stick together and try to keep your spirits up as best as possible. You just need to get through it day by day."