Scotland international and Edinburgh legend Stuart McInally is hanging up his boots to pursue his dream of becoming a commercial pilot.
The hooker joined Edinburgh back in 2009 and has enjoyed a memorable career, earning 47 international caps along the way, but has decided that he will retire when his current contract ends in November.
Already a keen pilot, holding his Private Pilot’s License, McInally now intends to pursue a career in the skies.
The 32-year-old admitted it wasn’t easy making up his mind about calling time on rugby after so long as a top-level professional, but he had a lifetime wish to earn his wings and knew it was the right moment to follow that dream.
He said: “I always thought it would be really easy to retire because I’ve always known what I want to do after rugby – become a pilot – but stepping away from the club I love is massive, and it’s been a huge decision.
“However, I feel ready, and this is such an exciting opportunity. I drive under a flight path every morning on my journey into BT Murrayfield and so often see planes landing at Edinburgh Airport. I start to think ‘what is the pilot seeing’, ‘how are they adapting’ – and that itself gets me excited for the next steps in my career.
“While I’m obviously sad to be moving on, this decision has really been ten years in the making. I started flying back in 2013 and a lot of work has gone in to get to this point. I’m now massively excited to pursue a career as a commercial airline pilot.”
McInally came through as a promising back-row, captaining Scotland at all youth levels, but made the pivotal decision to move to hooker to improve his international chances in 2013. The move paid off and allowed him to impress with club and country.
“Moving to hooker was the best thing for me and it’s been amazing for my career, however at the time it was really tough,” he said. “I was playing week in, week out for Edinburgh and I had been on the bench for Scotland – I thought I was ready to take off.
“I then get the phone call from the Scotland coaching team asking what I thought about the idea of moving to hooker. I knew if I wanted to achieve the things I wanted to achieve in rugby, then I would have to make that decision.
“It was the realisation that I’d have to spend two years of my life retraining as a hooker. Going through that was extremely tough, but I managed to do it, and that in itself has given me real confidence for my future, because it’s going to take two years training as a pilot. It’s tough, but the rewards are there to be collected if you’re willing to put the work in.”
The rewards for McInally were captaining Edinburgh and Scotland, and he led the national team to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
In Edinburgh colours, McInally joined a select group of players to make 15 appearances and that was just one of a host of memories he has enjoyed.
He said: “I look back on my time with Edinburgh so fondly. I’ve seen a lot of people at the club come and go, but the club has gone from strength to strength, and I really do believe it’s in a better place that it’s ever been.
“I’ve had 12 years with the club and so many special memories. Looking back at Toulouse in 2012. 37,000 Edinburgh fans at BT Murrayfield. I only came on for the last ten minutes, but I remember Greig [Laidlaw] kicking the penalty, the final whistle and jumping up and hugging Fordy – which is amazing considering what he did for my career.
“More recently, making my 150th appearance for the club down at Sale really sticks out. I shared that moment with Chris Dean who made his 100th appearance for the club. A big European game, against a big English Premiership club, and turning them over on their own patch. Getting presented with a gift from the squad was a really special moment post-match.
“As I move on later this year, I have so many people to thank. I owe a huge amount to my wife Natalie. Without even realising, she has sacrificed so much of her time to allow me to chase my dreams. She does so much, looking after our son Ollie and it’s an amazing feeling seeing them both after games – nothing beats it.
“I also want to thank Rob Moffat who was the first Edinburgh coach I worked with back in 2010. He signed me straight out of the academy and gave me a route to play for my boyhood club.
“And lastly, I just want to thank the fans. The people who come and support us week in, week out. Supporting Edinburgh Rugby is never the smoothest of rides. They are the ones who are always there, cheering us on win lose or draw.”
Edinburgh head coach Mike Blair added: “Stuart is a club legend and he’ll go down as one of Edinburgh Rugby’s most celebrated players because of his commitment to the jersey and dedication to being the best player he can possibly be for his boyhood team.
“Stuart commands respect across the club because of the way he carries himself as both a professional rugby player and a man.
“There isn’t a training session he won’t give 110% to, or a meeting he won’t fully prepare for – he’s the definition of a complete professional and his teammates look up to him because of his leadership.
“Stuart will soon move on to a new career as a pilot and I’ve got no doubts he’ll be a success in that too. I’ve seen first-hand how dedicated he was when switching from back-row to hooker.
“He’s completely driven to achieve his dreams and that’s exactly what he’s done during his time with Edinburgh and Scotland in over a decade of service to the sport.”
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