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Rugby on off the ball with Vodafone official sponsors of the Irish rugby team team of us, everyone n before that will turn to our next guest has lived a pretty remarkable rugby life in many ways, has taken him from Dublin and Leinster and the Irish in the 20s to what seemed like a certain retirement and then random circumstances combined and in McKinlay found himself playing for the Italian national team. He has recently returned to these shores, aged 30. Now he's doing some coaching in Derry with rainy old boys club in Division two of the ACL in McKinlay.
You're very welcome. Thanks for joining us.
No worries. Thanks very much for having me. No, it's great to have you on. It's great to have you on. So old rainy old boys in Derry Division 2A of the AFL. I wouldn't have said this was the natural move for an Italian international. I would have had it all this come about. Yeah, I think the coronaviruses thrown up serious amount of challenges for people recently, and I've ended up moving back here because my wife is from these parts.
And, you know, I think just with with all these uncertain times, I think it's just after 10 years of of nearly being abroad, I think it's just good to take stock and be closer to the family. So, yeah, I've ended up accepting a post to the Bucks coach for the Reno boys. So I started there a few days ago. So exciting times ahead.
I was reading you were one of eight players who left Benison at the end of this season. Was that enforced on them by the financial implications for everybody?
No, I think some guys were you know, they were retiring.
And me, I actually knew pretty early on and as the season started that I unfortunately wasn't going to be offered a new contract. So I had a good bit of preparation to decide what I was going to do next.
But and this decision to sort of due to the coronaviruses, come a bit quicker coming back to Ireland. But I'm happy to be back here, OK?
And are you retired? Retired or. Let's wait and see. Stephanie, let's wait, let's wait and see. I think, you know, even if you're I think you even saw the RFU today, you know, having to cut a huge amount of wages and even previously having to cut a huge amount of jobs.
There's just so much uncertainty at the moment.
And I think it would be unwise for me to make any sort of decision like that to make a rash decision.
And, you know, just as I said, unprecedented times and who knows what we're going to be like, let alone in.
In six months time, so I think it's just it's it's while I'm here, it's it's good that you can get to into community projects. And I've heard I have heard a lot about Ranie before.
Would you believe because I mean, I played my first ever senior game for you 12 years ago against them and obviously my wife being from from this area, you hear and hear results and keep an eye on the team.
So met the squad and they're good bunch of lads.
OK, great. I mean, I know you've long had an interest in coaching. She was on the record in the past to say that he thinks you'll make an excellent coach. And I was reading a quote from you. You said you've taken a team in every club that you've been at. I think you were working with the academy over in Bennett on. So it's something you're interested in.
Yeah, when when I retired age twenty one, Leinster were very good with me as well.
Just opening the door and letting me watch Academy sessions or taking an under 17 team I remember with John Fogerty which came against our was and you know, it's always been a huge interest for me. And you actually I think grow as a player as well, you know, learning to be able to speak to players and try and develop them.
So it's definitely an area that I'm definitely that I'm interested in.
So backs Coach AIO Division to a Raynell Boys.
Is there much you can take from international rugby and offer to that standard? Is it pretty similar. Totally different. I think the most important thing is that you just get to know the people that you're working with, you know, and guys are right there either studying or, you know, working and working hard in their day job. So and I think, you know, first and foremost, you want to obviously any team that you're with your with, you want to improve the standard of what they're of what they're doing and maybe impart some some wisdom.
But for me as well, I'll be learning from them on how to adapt and deal in certain situations.
And, you know, as I said, I was there upon on Thursday night and it was after the election rain like Italian weather in August time.
But the skill level was actually pretty high. And I was very impressed. And the squad is good. So hopefully we'll just feed off each other and it'll be a successful season. But again, it's just it's not like normal, you know, with with fans not being there or anything like that. So it's it's been a good start anyway.
And would you have coaching ambitions long term?
Yeah, I mean, definitely I would, but I definitely I understand that almost if you're not fortunate enough to get a job straight away and with with the first team, you almost have to start at the bottom of the barrel again, like like working your way up to becoming a professional rugby player.
So as you alluded to there, I've I've basically been part time coaching as well as playing since.
Since 2011, so. As I said, it's just a big interest of mine, so we'll we'll see what happens and just try to learn as much as you can along the way.
Was there a sadness in leaving initially? How did it feel like home had you become very comfortable and bedded into the Italian way of life?
Yeah, I'd be lying if I didn't say I missed it terribly. The sun is definitely a bit of a difference and but it's a totally different way of life and, you know, fortunate enough to just be a two hour plane trip away.
But again, with the virus, restrictions on might not be the wisest at the moment, but there would be gave me a second chance in life and a second chance at rugby, and I'll be forever eternally grateful to them. So who knows in the future, you just you never know where you're going to end up. But I certainly would love to maybe in the future get back there.
But we'll we'll just wait and see.
So what was life like there besides the sun?
A bit of wine drinking was not too bad, but no, it's it's just culturally, it's it's totally different. It's just the pace of life is certainly different. This is from 12. Twelve thirty to three thirty are completely different. And the the way in which rugby is is is done in Italy is completely different to Ireland. So you obviously have a huge presence in schools, rugby here. But in Italy they actually don't play any team sports within the school.
It's they're all clubs club based. So they whenever they finish school there, maybe a six o'clock in the evening, they're out there club playing rugby. So it's it's a totally different way of doing things. But, you know. I know I know Italian rugby gets a fair bit of stick with the with the first team, but it's definitely it's definitely an improving nation.
And it's it's still very much played in pockets rugby in Italy. Would it be at this stage, Reginette, nationally?
Yeah. I mean, you pick up the local newspaper like Gazeta, and if there's about 50 pages of that.
Forty eight of them are about soccer. Yeah, one about basketball and then half a page about rugby.
So it's really it is followed, but it's just eclipsed by football. But there's huge numbers.
And, you know, basically from Rome northwards is where rugby is played.
Not so much in the south, even though there are a couple of teams, but that's predominantly where you would find your find your players.
We got a hint of the Italian there, the accent when you said like that, they all go to the polls.
And my my friend was a little a little flourish there.
So I presume you're pretty fluent and you must have gotten to grips with that fairly well at this stage.
Again, I was thrown in pretty much at the deep end. I remember when I moved over as a twenty two year old, my first class was or my first rugby lesson was in a in a school trying to promote rugby. And there was about 50 teenagers there and just me didn't have one word of Italian and you know, they took the mickey out of me. So I continued basically for about a year until I was able to pick it up.
And, yeah, it's it's a good language to decent language.
So it's became easier as well. Whenever whenever you're hanging around constantly with Italians and obviously having to play at half, you need to communicate everything in Italian and then playing maybe for the more professional teams are able to just speak, maybe both.
And did you take to having a siesta in the afternoon and especially during pre-season, why wouldn't you with the heat. So yeah, particularly in August time. It's crazy how it gets to near 40 degree heat. So there's actually not much you can do. It's almost like the equivalent of a torrential downpour in Ireland is actually not much you can do in that period.
So whenever you're training, you just generally slept at that time. Yeah, maybe for four hours.
It is the I mean, your career is just so remarkable, really. I mean, I don't know what the odds on everything conspiring the way they did. Ah. But they're long that's for sure. I mean really from, from twenty ten when the initial injury happened, everything about what's transpired, it's such a remote chance of it happening. Do you scratch your head a bit and look back on the various kind of key points along the way and almost think of you must have had a better half a dozen sliding doors moments.
I mean I think people who maybe are familiar with my story, do they they will know that I always allude to my age, my support network that helped me get back on my feet because I really did hit the at the bottom of the barrel and was really struggling mentally with with giving up the game. And they they picked me up when I needed it most, so. And I think just the biggest thing for me is just getting the the recognition that you're a rugby player again, not trying to step away from the mechanics of rugby goggles.
And I know what's interesting for people, whenever they see something for the first time, it's you know, it's always it would always draw attention.
And I can imagine that the goggles would would have.
But now, you know, particularly initially when when I played, there was literally there was never any mention of us. And I was just seen as a as a as a normal rugby player.
And if, you know, you made the made a good decision on the field, you got the plaudits. And if I mistick, which unfortunately happened a few times, sometimes maybe I would blame the blind spot.
But generally guys would just take you at face value and you just just as another you're basically just another player, which I wouldn't I wouldn't expect it any other way, you know, put the goggles, which effectively, as I understand it, you pioneered with the help of somebody from the National College of Art and Design.
I think Johnny American is his name. They have become rather commonplace now. Lots and lots and lots of athletes all around the world are using them.
Yeah. So there's two thousand people registered using them worldwide.
So that's a mixture of adults and children. So, yeah, that part of it is probably the piece that I'm most proud of is that it's giving other people the opportunity to partake in sport because it's actually been amazing since sort of I got back to playing in 2014. The amount of messages you received from people saying that they have a similar issue where they know someone or their child is really struggling with with vision loss or or some sort of similar problem.
So that's, you know, for me, gave me a huge motivating factor. And I'm still does still receive messages weekly. And so, as I said, that's that's really been the part that have been probably most proud of me coming to me.
Let's have a propaganda stroll, meander around this place. We call home Mosiello to Malahide Castle, pop into St. Patrick's Cathedral, have a poke around Kroko for a skyline to ramble from the grandest national gallery to the locals little museum. Then roll with the rock stars that women Winmalee forbid a quick crack at the little north side. Self-titled so pretty Dublin is only massive. Discover more. Visit Dublin Duco. For people vaguely where your story just to recap relatively briefly, because I'm sure you've told it a bunch of times, it was what you said, I think, in 2010 where you lost sight in your left eye.
I think it was ranking at the bottom of a rock. It turned out actually by your own teammate, although at the time you thought something nefarious had happened, I think you were quite angry initially, but then it turned out it was just a freak accident.
Yeah, everything about it was just wrong place. Wrong time was at the bottom of the rock. And I went for a big rip on the ground just for possession of the ball.
And yeah, just or next thing I remember was just an almighty buying an almighty clatter in my face. And next thing, just the left side of my face went completely black and the vision went completely.
So unfortunately, my teammates stodge went into my eyeball to eyeball burst.
So it was just literally everything that shouldn't have been there at the one time was and I was rushed straight away to the area where I had emergency surgery. And the surgeons there managed to save the I gradually got vision back to get it up to about 50 percent. After about six months, I was back on the field and they don't know Joe Smith. In his first year, the vision continuously improved to about 70 percent.
And then the worst case scenario of that of my retina detaching happened.
And that just left me completely blind. So am I. If I'm to cover up my right eye now, I just see complete black. I can't even really distinguish light in a room or just about.
If it's a sunny day, I can tell that it's that the sun is out and in the retina detached, just sitting in the car traffic lights. Yeah, it was just bizarre, I mean, I was with with a few of the other Leinster guys at the time and yeah, just looked up at the traffic lights and I just couldn't distinguish the colors at all. And nothing had really happened before that in the sense that I didn't have this dramatic, dramatic loss.
And from from the accident initially happens, I knew there was something dramatically wrong. And I went to the hospital again and they just said, yeah, the the morning after I had my last operation, the judge said that the retina is completely gone and the tear is three times bigger than what we can do.
So, yeah, that was still the hardest thing I ever had to do is make that decision. Twenty one to to stop, because just there are so many, so many factors that led me to the decision. But still the hardest thing that I've ever had to do walking into Joe Schmidt's office is the primary reason.
Well, I can't afford to risk losing sight in my other eye. Or is it something totally different?
Yeah, the um.
So I sat down with my dad, who is a man of great wisdom, and he just said, you know, maybe just lay out the positives in the negatives and sort of the the factors that came back to me were that my life was still incredibly painful. It was really very, very sore after all the operations and the my depth perception was was really bad.
So simply pouring water into a glass, I was missing it by by three feet. And then there were a few unsavoury incidents of gouging in my good eye when I got back plane, which made me think know I really want to risk losing complete eyesight for the sake of rugby. Even the rugby is a massive part of my life. So they were the three factors that led me to making the decision.
And then sort of I suppose people will go, well, why on earth are you back onto rugby field? And I just said that if I ever was to step back onto a field, it would be with some form of protection and there was no protection.
So when we went looking in 2013, we, uh, we managed to basically push the project along.
I think some people think that I came up with a or I've been part of the design process, but it's literally just been getting the correct people, meeting at the right times and basically pushing it over the line.
The eye gouging incidents. I remember reading about them in time and they just jumped. That is extraordinary. Under the circumstances. Did that happen playing for Leinster or was that a higher level? And I suspect that, frankly, you were targeted like do you think people knew in McCain? Kennedy has had this issue with desire. He's played for Leinster. I'm going to, you know, make a name against this fella. Or do you think that was just a freakish and terrible coincidence out of the two?
I know one is a lot more serious than the other. So it's definitely I've gone on record before.
You know, it's not the part of the story that I'd like to dwell on.
But it is it is the the reason that I wear the goggles, no other no other factor involved, just one hundred percent protection and safety that the goggles give me. Some people think that it actually improves my vision. It actually impairs it even even more just due to the padding.
And it gives me ten degrees less than what I would normally have. So that's just the sole reason that I'd wear them.
Yeah, you seem like a pretty levelheaded fella, not prone to losing your temper too badly. If I felt somebody had deliberately tried to, I gouge me and I had lost sight in one eye and potentially they were risking my side full stop. I don't know what I'd be held accountable for my actions. How did you react?
Yeah, pretty lucky that I had good teammates around me. So they were able to reprimand the guy pretty quickly. I remember Johnny Sexton, brother Mark. He was he was playing with me and he was in fairly quickly sorting the situation out.
So, listen, you you you you have some guys that maybe lose their head, lose their temper.
I was just there to to play rugby and get on with my life again. So, yeah, there were unsavoury incidents, but I've, you know, five Pakta.
You know, I've tried to try to try to move on as best I can.
Were they dealt with properly at the time.
Officially, probably not as much as you want, but there's no video evidence or anything like that. So you can you're just going on one player's word against, against another.
OK, so effectively you had to retire for that was very understandable reasons. And I know I know you went to Italy to do some coaching and had to say I'm not in MacKinley rugby player anymore. That was not easy for you. Understandably, I would. Frustrated, bitter, angry. You know, sad, I would think as well that you're you're playing for Leinster under Joe Schmoe, having come back from this initial. Devastating injury and getting 70 percent of your vision back to it, going completely and then for the reasons you've outlined, having to retire, tell us about that.
That period where you're you're retired and you're coaching in Italy with no Italian just to make things easier and easier.
And I suppose Ireland is such a small place and there would be communities even smaller in Ireland. So I think I was really, you know, taken aback by the support of everyone. And, you know, that was the various clubs that I was with, whether it was the pro rail. But I absolutely hated being talked about in the past, present and, you know, in the past and that you were a great player and you were able to do these things.
And it just sort of, I suppose, gave me a probably a chip on my shoulder and.
You know, I just needed to go somewhere completely different, which ended up being Italy, and it was just perfect for me because I could create my own little home there or create my own little piece of history. So. So.
So do you mean like you didn't you could suddenly avoid going for a morning coffee and bumping into someone, going, jeez, I saw you play for the Irish in your 20s. You were brilliant in your day, that kind of thing.
Yeah. I mean, I wasn't, you know, Brian O'Driscoll or one of these, you know, famous names going around. But it did happen on a couple of occasions where I went to a bar and someone would go up and say, yeah, and she's I remember playing against you last year.
Such a pity. And you were a great player and all this and such a pity. So I just after a while, I just really got to me. So I suppose just moving over gave me a new lease of life, but it was definitely.
Yeah, it was just very difficult and I think I thought if I worked triple the amount that I should, I would just forget about, forget about what happened to me. And it probably really only hit me, I would say the retirement and everything that went on in that 18 month period.
It only hit me about a year and a half later.
And that's when I had my little. A big cry with my brother, and he took me under his arm, and that's sort of where the momentum shift came for finding finding out about these goggles.
OK, so you have that moment with your brother where you, I guess, approaches rock bottom and there's a grieving aspect to it. Is it at that point that you say, well, let's reinvestigate if I can play rugby, that's kind of where that started?
Yeah, there was there was a couple of things. There was the unfortunate Neville Spence family tragedy was that that happened six weeks when I moved over to Italy.
And I remember getting a phone call from one of my very close friends and in the middle of the night and just said that he's he's dead, is dead. And I said, who's dead? And Nathan Spence. And you look on the BBC website and there you see a companion, a guy who you roomed with, who you you went to battle with honor on a rugby field.
And him and two of his family members are gonna start all the thinking that he would have given any part of his body to play for Ulster and Ireland.
And I think that just sort of kicked me into gear later on saying, well, you have absolutely no right, Ian, to not at least give it a go, because what would the supposed never do in that situation or he doesn't have that opportunity again. You still have your your full body, you've got your legs, you know, your arms, and you've got no vision in your left eye so that basically you get up and do it. But I needed the tools to be able to to help me with this.
My brother was able to provide that with with various people and people who are a lot more skilled and then himself than my brother and me, they were able to push us in the right direction again with their world rugby's help. And we were able to able to get the goggles. And I suppose the rest is history.
Yeah. And that stuff brings in Jonny Merrick. And I know I seen him mentioned in places he was with the National College of Art and Design and develop those goggles, which is extraordinary, extraordinary to think they're being worn by two thousand people around the world now. I mean, in some ways, that's the biggest legacy of all of that. That's an extraordinary thing to have two thousand people playing sport who might otherwise not be. So I would have in particular I mean, I get it.
If you're kind of a front rower, head down work. Right. But like the very definition of being in that half is to be seen things around, you know, vision. We will talk about it. And that has vision at all times. I like. How limited did you feel when you first tried to play again?
Erm I had my first game back was in CDG, so the lowest club level that you could possibly find initially. And so like the level was poor and the guys that I would play with will tell you exactly the same.
But it was perfect for me because it was just as if I was a building block to getting one of my confidence back and the goals were safe for me and say for the players, the game itself was three team and I.
It rained the day before the morning of the game. The pitch was so flooded, a mud bath.
So it was really like the best way I can describe whenever you're in range, when you're driving a car and you've just got no no wipers for when it rains and it gets to that sort of stage with the with with the fog and everything like that. So that's what they were like initially. They're much better now due to years of technology and investments on maybe understanding from the players that have used them.
So, listen, it was just perfect for me to get back and just get that feeling of of just playing rugby. And yeah, I mean, there were things that are very difficult, certain lines in rugby passes that are effectively I'm throwing blind because I'm left footed and I'm blind in my left eye. Kicking did become or was a bit more tricky.
So I had to try and adapt how I how I kicked. I still have never been fully satisfied with how I've actually ended up doing that. I still think there's a huge amount to to improve on and on and just simply passing the catch pass. So the depth perception is still not 100 percent. So you just need to constantly work on. A doctor even gave me a little table. It's normally when you when you catch a ball, you're just waiting for it.
He told me, how about putting your hands up towards the ball and your depth perception is not a compromise. So that's those little things have helped me hugely. And it's just just basically just training those days.
What are you going to do? Do you have to make what you're kicking? Yeah. So sometimes if I leave the ball, I can't see it. And so I've had to turn my body angle.
And again, it's always a work in progress. I'm not fully satisfied whatsoever with what I've done with it, and so but that's also the thing that excited me in saying this six year period from 2014 just threw up so many different challenges that some people wouldn't have thought about.
But again, you never make excuses for us, and especially when you go up to the highest level, you you you can't have any weaknesses you work on. And I would never make an excuse for it. But yeah, there were certainly times over that were challenging. I give you that.
Yeah, I can imagine. I mean, I can certainly can visualize in my head that if you're kicking off your left foot and you're letting that ball drop from, say, your hands or with your left side, if you can't see it anymore, I mean, did it take long to get to a point where automatically because it's one thing, I suspect doing it in training consciously to doing it automatically in a split second in a game, did it did it take a long time or how long did it take to get to a point where you felt like all the adjustments that your your hands off earlier for the ball or your body angle when you're kicking, that they just became automatic?
Yes, was just a constant work in progress, I suppose I'm still not satisfied with with what I've done, if I'm to be totally honest, because there are when you look back in games, there are certainly things that, you know, maybe to someone who doesn't follow rugby.
Well, actually, there's no difference. But I would note so and again, it's just I suppose the whole exciting part of it has been that you just find something else to go to work on. You know, coaches go on constantly now about the work ons and, you know, the detail you need to to win rugby games.
And for me, that really does mean that I need to work on the most basic things of catch past kick and kicking and playing, playing under floodlights with with the goggles when there's a bit of a shine and all that sort of stuff glare with the goggles, as some people might not realize.
So certain things like that, you need to you need to adapt your training session. But that's what also kept the mind fresh.
So I would say, did it change the type of player that you had been? Um, yeah, I suppose that's a good question. I'm. I think, you know, experience is a good old thing I've been asked previously, do you think you were a stronger player when you were in Ireland or when you were in Italy?
And that's an easy one, because with know experience is a great thing and you're able to learn from from losing games, winning games and climbing up the ladder. So AM.
Like, I don't think I'm too different. Certainly some aspects that I know that are probably and that are probably not maybe as strong as what I was, but there are a lot of areas now that I'm a lot stronger than what I was. And also, as well, rugby is developing. Dramatically every every few years, so the difference from when I get to that is 11 to when I step back on it in 2014 and yeah, it was dramatic.
Did you have to make certain accommodations or allowances to yourself that you might talk to a player who's thirty four, thirty five and they just have to accept they're not going to react as quickly or get to that ball the way they might have when they were a twenty two year old. Did you have to almost cut yourself some slack and say, right, I'm, I just can't spend the next five years being frustrated. I can do X, Y and Z, which I used to be able to do.
No, because I.
Like, I know I know what I can do, so I think that was also one of the things that made my brother really involved in the project as well of getting me back, because he he saw that I was still able to, you know, pass accurately for 20 meters or kick off the to do a drop goal, still do all the basic essentials that an athlete can do and tackle poverty.
So I think if he if he thought that I wasn't able to do those things anywhere near to the level that I don't previously, then it would have been, well, maybe we need to curtail the expectation levels here.
But it's literally it's honestly, when people describe journeys as a roller coaster, this certainly has been is I knew whenever I went back and started playing in 2014, I knew that I could get back to the level that I that I that I had stopped previously.
And but it's also important as well that every landmark that you write that you needed to celebrate it as well. So and I certainly I suppose now, given that coronavirus time is a good time, as good a time as any to sort of just step back, take a little breather. And, you know, as I said, who knows what's gone.
Yeah, sure. I mean, to celebrate achievements, to go from that wet pitch at the lowest tier of Italian rugby to playing six nations games for Italy and standing there for the anthem and even playing against Ireland. And, you know, I'd say half the country were really, really hoping, you know, you did really well to hit that level. Is is quite the achievement. I mean, it's one thing getting into it on and being paid to play rugby.
But then the residents are reluctant to play international rugby six nations games that most I hope you did celebrate that and did acknowledge that like this is a serious achievement now.
Probably not as much as I should should have, but I remember and this will always stick with me. So and I remember we were in preparation, I think it was for the Heineken Cup. It was either the quarterfinal or semi-final against Leicester to lose, but Leinster in 2011. I remember Brian Driscoll just said, and he was talking about being a professional and how we need to be all professional in this period, know it's one thing to play. He made a reference to Ireland, said it's one thing to play, to play for Ireland.
It's another thing to play well for Ireland.
So I think that I only sort of understood that now when I had nine games, really. And it is one thing to get to the international stage, but to play well in international rugby is another thing.
And I suppose I still, you know, looking back on the games that I played, would not be satisfied with about eight of them. So, yeah, I think that's just a competitive edge that all sports people have. And, you know, you alluded to the Irish games there. And, you know, they were they were a momentous occasion. So the first game they played against argument, which was was really emotional, of course. But at the end of the day, we lost by 50 points.
I mean, who wants to lose your some of your really good mates by 50 points? I mean, that's not good.
Who wants to miss a kick in in the Six Nations to possibly get a losing bonus points in front of your own home fans?
And, you know, but that's that's sort of maybe the way I think. But of course, maybe when I when I'm sitting in my chair rocking chair that I can go, well, at least I gave it my best shot.
If this was for whatever reason, the end of the playing career, now age 13, are you more prepared to say goodbye to rugby and to be former rugby player in MacKinley now, or would it still be very difficult? I think it would still be very difficult, but I've yeah, I've been fortunate enough to make sure that I have a Plan B in place, which I think even if you're if you're to look at Sergio Faricy now, who's in his late 30s, I don't think you're.
You know, in comparison to him retiring and someone then like John Clifford is out to retire. Twenty seven. You're never ready. You know, that's the real challenge.
Some guy's buddies might give up, but mentally, you always believe that you can you can go on. So it's an extremely difficult period for any sporting athlete to know when their race has been run. But I definitely the experience of having retired for that three year period will stand to me.
And, you know, again, I'm just fortunate to have to have the people around me to help me help me achieve that so I can myself. Very fortunate.
You were up in the north of Italy during the COBRA crisis and lockdown, and Italy had the misfortune of being first up from a European point of view and probably totally ill equipped to deal with it. And we know we've got we saw the footage over here and watched on in horror, you know, and thankfully, we had a bit more time to prepare. What was it like for you as we kind of caught up in any great way, or was it just lockdown and hoping?
Yes, so we were based in myself and my wife were in interviews, I was about three hours, three hours east of where the breakout happened.
And that was in Bergamo. Yeah. So, yeah, no, it was definitely for two and a half months.
It was no further than two hundred meters in your from your apartment or where you lived. Those was police drones checking I remember. And one of my teammates was three hundred meters from his house walking his dog and the police were there reprimanding him saying you got to be no more than two hundred. And so they were very strict. So it was a scary time just to the all you could hear was ambulance sirens going every ten minutes. It was just crazy whether that was because there was no traffic, nobody out.
But it was literally every ten minutes if you were on a call and the sirens going on in the back.
And in terms of training, it was pretty, pretty tricky because there was no no greenery around. So you just have to make do and Benneton, in fairness to them, were pretty good and swift in their approach. They opened up the gym.
So, guys, if they wanted to take dumbbells or plates or whatever, if you had a garage, you could you could just put them there and a train away. So that's what that's what I did for two and a half months. I'm just running around my apartment block for about half an hour.
Yeah, I can imagine what it was like even to the sound of sirens going off that often. I mean, just constant reminder that you're in the thick of it.
Yeah, yeah. I think just the unknown and everything was being delayed sort of three weeks at a time hoping that.
But it was going to stop at some stage, and luckily enough, it sort of improved slightly. So for the foreseeable, you're coaching now at Raynell Boys backs coach and you're still only 30. It's it's a TBC stage in your career. Playing may still arise. I mean, I don't it depends on, say, we may be in touch. We may not. Does it depend on finances? Are you still very much in the dark now? That's done.
You know, with with Benneton and I had a fantastic four years there, but they're they're in pretty good hands with the with the tens they have there at the moment, you know, the three of them. So they're they're pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty solid there. So it's a good club. It's a growing club and it's a fantastic city.
And, you know, I think it's just particularly last year ever reached the play offs.
That was a real milestone for Italian rugby to show that the talent really is there.
And that's also supposed to get, you know, the chip on my shoulder about that as well, because people would say, you know, it terrible or Italy, they can never win games. But if if people only really realise the talent there, it's just maybe, I suppose, a structural thing that they're just a little bit behind. We're a little bit behind in comparison to Ireland, in comparison to two other nations. But I'm so convinced whenever that day arrives that those appropriate measures can be put in place.
Italy will be a pretty, pretty tough rugby nation because they have a good combination between skill set and just sheer toughness and non aggression, physical defence, which is obviously becoming a lot more important in the game.
Yeah, it would be great. And the six nations need that, you know, and you don't want to be to you in terms of what do you need to be relegated or what do they bring into the six nations? I got the distinct impression I was trying to bring as much as as a winning mentality to the first team, also a better structure to the game generally there.
Yeah, I mean, Conor, you know, very well thought after, but it's you know, as I said, it's tough whenever structures are not fully in place. So, I mean, you only have to look at Ireland during the during the 90s. I mean, Ireland won twelve percent of the international games. So I know I know it's incredibly difficult.
Situation Room after loss, after loss for the Italians. What is it now. Twenty twenty odd, more than twenty odd games in a row. Loss for the six nations. I mean it doesn't make for good reading, but I am you know, I'm so convinced that if he can get consistent basis with the older age, which if you look at results combined, the last sort of five years with the Italian under 20s, if we can get these guys in a proper training training environment, then I can just naturally progressed.
And then once you get the clubs, Treviso wins every competing consistently, then that will just naturally filter into the seam.
Well, listen in, MacKinley. As I said at the outset, you've lived like the most remarkable rugby life. I mean, it's just the most incredible story, best eloquent Raynell boys over the foreseeable and sure, by the sounds of things, we might see a target out somewhere in the foreseeable future as well, regardless of what happens in McKinley. Thanks so much.
I appreciate your time. Thank you. Rugby on Off the Ball with Vodafone official sponsors of the Irish rugby team team of us everyone in town thought was an off the ball podcast network presentation.
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