Essendon's Conor McKenna hasn't given up on Tyrone dreams
AFL star Conor McKenna hasn’t given up on his dream of playing for Tyrone.
The 20-year-old has just completed his second season with Essendon, establishing himself in the first team squad this year.
The Eglish man was targeted by several Aussie Rules clubs after coming to prominence in a string of stand-out displays for the Tyrone minors, for whom he played for three seasons.
He was called into Mickey Harte’s senior squad in 2014 while still a minor, before opting to answer the call from Down Under.
But he revealed yesterday that he could be back to boost the Red Hands before he reaches his mid-20s.
“I would love to come back home and play for Tyrone,” said McKenna.
“I’ll maybe have five or six years here, but 100 per cent I want to play for Tyrone.
“I’ll have to see what happens over the next few years, but that’s’ the plan.”
He missed out on an All-Ireland title with the Tyrone U21 team last year, one of many regrets he harbours in reflecting on what might have been had he continued with his GAA career.
“That was a big miss, but you never know what might happen in the future,” he added.
McKenna is currently back home for a close-season break, before returning to Melbourne next month to begin preparations for Essendon’s 2017 challenge for AFL honours.
He played 12 games for the club’s first team this year, kicking three goals in an initial stint in attack, before reverting to a defensive role, and has become a big favourite with fans at the MCG.
“I was playing in the forwards most of the time last year, but I moved into the backs for the last few games of the seasons and that made a bit of a difference.
“It will be a massive year next year. It will define how you do in the seasons ahead over there.
“I’ll go back around the tenth of November for pre-season, with the season starting in mid-February or March.
“It will be a massive year and hopefully I’ll get a few more games and push on, get my place in the team.
“When I get back it will be very tough. It’s more or less four months of running and putting the work in. When you put the work in, you get the rewards, so I’ll just have to do everything I can, follow the instructions and get the games.”
The former Tyrone underage protégé is now happily settled in his adopted home following an initial spell of restlessness soon after his arrival.
“There was a bit of home-sickness last year, but I moved in with a few players at the end of the year, and that helped settle me in,” he said.
“You have a lot of spare time, but when you’re with other players, we’re all off at the same time so we’re always doing something together.”
He’s the only Irish player on the Essendon books, but Louth’s Ciaran Byrne, who plays for Carlton, lives nearby and the pair get together regularly for reflections on life back home.
“He lives about five minutes from me and we meet up every couple of weeks, have a bit of a chat about home and about the GAA,” he said.
And there are also frequent visits from family members and friends who show up as welcome faces on the other side of the world.
McKenna readily admits that he’s still learning the game, but it has been an upward curve since he made a sensational AFC debut last year – scoring a goal with his first touch at the Melbourne Cricket Ground against Richmond.