GAA Football

I still need to get up to speed in GAA admits Tyrone's Conor McKenna

Conor McKenna made an immediate impact upon his return to Gaelic football, but the Tyrone forward knows he has some work to do to before supporters see the best of him. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Neil Loughran

HE made an instant impact upon his return to Tyrone – but former Aussie Rules star Conor McKenna knows he still has work to do to get up to the non-stop speed of the inter-county game in time for the new season.

Before calling time on his AFL career last September, McKenna proved a huge success with Essendon across a five-year stay, his speed and physicality making him a massive hit with Bombers fans.

The Eglish man’s transition back to Gaelic football couldn’t have gone much better either after eye-catching performances against Donegal and Mayo in Division One.

However, McKenna admits getting up to pace of the game for the full 70 minutes was tough going, especially after returning from the more stop-start world of Aussie Rules.

“That’s one thing that definitely affected me a bit.

“Gaelic doesn’t stop really. You kick a ball over the bar and the ’keeper has it back in his hands in a second and the game’s back on. There’s not really much time for recovery where in AFL you can maybe work for 10-12 minutes then you normally come off once a quarter, you have your four minute break then back on.

“Even in the game you’d always have 30-40 second periods of walking or light jogging, a chance to recover basically, so it’s definitely something I have to adjust to and that’s what I’m working on at the minute – just getting that different fitness back up to the right level and bring my game to the next level.”

County teams hope to be told when they can return to training later this week, with the original January 15 date already passed, leaving the middle of February looking more likely as the start of the National League is expected to be pushed back towards the second half of March.

When they do reconvene, it will be the first time in 19 years that a Tyrone panel won’t be greeted by Mickey Harte as plans and preparations for the year ahead get under way.

Harte originally brought McKenna into the senior fold as a minor back in 2014, and called upon his services again last September when the 24-year-old came back from Australia.

Since ending his reign, Harte has been replaced by Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher. McKenna knows both men well having been involved with the pair at U21 level, and admits the whole panel and new management team are looking forward to getting started properly.

“No, to be honest,” said McKenna when asked if he was surprised by Harte’s departure, which came just 12 days after Tyrone’s Ulster Championship exit to Donegal.

“It wasn’t a shock but I wouldn’t have been shocked if he’d stayed either, that sort of way. He did so much for Tyrone but it came to a stage where a change is also good, so it could’ve gone either way and I’m happy with the way it’s gone for the team and players.

“It’s a good step in the right direction and we’ll see what happens in the next few years. I get on very well with Feargal and Brian, they seem to be very good, as well as the backroom staff.

“There’s plenty of experience there, it’s just been a weird time with not being able to meet up and doing a couple of Zoom calls here and there. We can’t wait to get into it.”

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

GAA Football