GAA Football

Conor McKenna not concerned with hype as he looks forward to Championship debut for Tyrone against Donegal

Conor McKenna has scored 3-4 in two games for Tyrone so far. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Andy Watters

CONOR McKenna hopes that Tyrone stick with the attacking brand of football that saw then hammer 3-14 against Mayo last Sunday in this year’s Championship.

In only his second game since his return from Aussie Rules club Essendon, attacking spearhead McKenna bagged 2-2 to go along with the 1-2 he registered in his first outing against Donegal. Those scores and his all-round performances have led to the Eglish native being hailed as the best player ever to return to the GAA from Australia. But he insists that he isn’t buying into the hype as he looks forward to making his Championship debut against the Ulster champions in Ballybofey on Sunday.

“I don’t really listen to it,” said McKenna.

“I listen to my family and my close friends and that’s all I’m focussed on. No matter if you’re going bad or good, you always have opinions from other people. I try not to listen to that too much and just focus on what I can do myself.”

Read More: Home is where my heart is says Red Hand star Conor McKenna

McKenna had been back home for a week and-a-half when a family member tested positive for Covid-19 and so he had to go into quarantine for a fortnight meaning he missed two weeks’ training. That meant he’d only had a week’s training before the Donegal game but the cutting edge and physical presence he brought to the Tyrone attack was obvious. This Sunday he returns to MacCumhaill Park to make a Championship debut for his beloved Red Hands.

“It’s something I’ve dreamt about for the last six or seven years,” he said.

“I was in the AFL and not really enjoying it so to get back to the sport I love, that I’ve dreamt about playing for a long time… It’s great to get back into it and I’ve scored a few goals so it has definitely been a good start.

“Championship is the main one so it was good to get a few games under my belt before that and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it again now. It’s a bit different this year with the knockout and no back door, so it’ll be a real battle in Ballybofey I’m sure.”

When his return was confirmed during the summer there were many good judges – including former Down and Collingwood star Marty Clarke – who tipped McKenna to become a star of the GAA but warned that it might take time for him to settle back into the Irish life and the game. He has hit the ground running but admits he is still getting used to the pace of Gaelic Football.

“People would say to me: ‘Ah your fitness will be at a different level from Gaelic players’,” he said.

“But when I came home I got a bit of a shock by how much Gaelic constantly moves – there’s no stoppages at all. In the AFL you might do a 30-40m run but then you’ll get 20-30 seconds of walking whereas in Gaelic it doesn’t stop.

“In the AFL you get off once a quarter so you can bust yourself knowing you will get that break. In Gaelic you can kick the ball over the bar but then the goalie will have the ball in his hands kicking it back over your head. When I came back I struggled with how much the ball is constantly moving – you are constantly in a job, there’s no walking.”

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GAA Football