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Ian McKinley: My future at Benetton is up in the air but we must keep everything in perspective

 

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Real concern: Ian McKinley is worried about his future

Real concern: Ian McKinley is worried about his future

�INPHO/Ryan Hiscott

Ian McKinley and wife Cordelia Mulholland

Ian McKinley and wife Cordelia Mulholland

Real concern: Ian McKinley is worried about his future

Like many professional players across Europe, Ian McKinley currently finds himself caught in limbo due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Such is the devastation that he has witnessed first-hand whilst living in Italy, rugby isn't exactly at the forefront of McKinley's mind, but he wouldn't be human if he wasn't conscious of the fact that he is out of contract at the end of the PRO14 season.

When exactly that will be is still very much up in the air, particularly for Benetton, who are based in Treviso, which is located near Lombardy - a region that has been hit extremely hard by the coronavirus.

McKinley, who is married to Bellaghy native Cordelia Mulholland, remains in lockdown, trying to keep himself as busy as possible, and with no light at the end of the tunnel just yet, his rugby future is very much up in the air for now.

"I suppose there's been a bit of discussion around my future, but this has just thrown a lot of stuff in the air," the 30-year-old admitted. "This whole process has thrown a lot of things into a massive amount of confusion. There's a huge amount of question marks around various different things. If we do look at starting up the Championship again, when is it going to be?

"Certain players are going to be in contract, out of contract, sponsorship deals. There's a huge amount that has to be sorted out if we even do get to that stage. It's very much a waiting game at the moment.

"But the thing is we're not, nobody is, in control of this, until some doctors or scientists manage to find a cure. All we can do is follow the guidelines that are put out by all the governments."

McKinley's bid for a contract extension hasn't been helped by the arrival of fellow Dubliner Ian Keatley at Benetton.

Game time has been more difficult to come by this season as Keatley moved ahead in the pecking order, and while that hasn't exactly been ideal from McKinley's point of view, he has welcomed the added competition.

"Keats is someone who is very well respected, you only have to look at his record for the teams that he's played for," McKinley said.

"He's really accumulated a serious amount of points and he's a very well respected player over in Ireland and here already in Italy.

"He's already stamped his mark with the team. Of course, as with any team, it's good to have competition, but the thing with Italian rugby is that you just have one team.

"The difference between Ireland and Italy is that at least if you aren't playing week in, week out, you have the 'A' team to maybe get a few games or even your (All-Ireland League) club.

"Here, it doesn't work like that. We're in a squad of 52 players and 23 go out onto the field."

The battle of the former Leinster out-halves very much pales into significance when you consider what is going on in their adopted country.

Across the country in Parma, Benetton's rivals Zebre are enduring similarly uncertain times, but amidst all the doom and gloom, their flanker Maxime Mbanda has been a beacon of hope in his volunteer work as an emergency ambulance driver.

"What Max is doing is fantastic," McKinley added. "I think everyone is applauding him and quite rightly. It's Trojan work.

"I know in Benetton here, we asked, there was a certain group of players who asked on behalf of the club if there were similar jobs to do, even if it was just taking food to people in need or helping out in any way, but we were under strict guidelines from the region that we are not to come into contact with anyone.

"The deaths are still pretty high, but hopefully that means that the last three weeks have helped to keep the rate of infection down.

"That has been a huge positive here."

Belfast Telegraph