Conor McKenna: Former AFL star not ruling out 2020 Tyrone return

McKenna 'willing' for Tyrone return

Former Tyrone minor star Conor McKenna says he would relish the opportunity to take part in the Red Hands' 2020 Championship campaign.

The Eglish native is returning home from Australia having spent the last six years playing for AFL club Essendon.

While acknowledging the move back to Gaelic football is unlikely to be seamless, McKenna has spoken to Tyrone boss Mickey Harte in recent weeks and would make himself available for the Championship if called upon.

"I've talked to Mickey a few times over the past few months and he's sent a message to say it's good news to hear, and he's looking forward to seeing me in a Tyrone jersey again," said the 24-year-old.

"I think it'll be a longer transition than people think, it's not to going to be as easy as walking back onto the pitch and kicking the ball over the bar.

"I need to go home and see what happens, have a talk with Mickey and see what he thinks. If he thinks it's the right option to come and get involved I'm more than happy to put my hand up and see how I go."

McKenna left home for Australia in 2014 in a move deemed a considerable blow to Tyrone, who were losing one of their most exciting young talents.

He made 79 appearances for Essendon, establishing himself as a regular in the side. However throughout his time in the AFL McKenna was open about his desire to one day return home to pursue inter-county success with Tyrone.

Having spent time in Ireland during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in spring, he returned Down Under when the AFL resumption was announced.

Conor McKenna
McKenna was a key member of the Tyrone minor panel that reached final of the All-Ireland final in 2013

"Probably in the last six weeks or so I wasn't really enjoying playing in the AFL," McKenna admitted.

"I talked to the coaches before games and didn't really put my hand up for selection for four to five weeks now.

"Even when I first got here, I never really fell in love with the AFL or the Australian lifestyle. I always went home one or two days after the season finished and never really stuck around.

"I wanted to achieve playing one game which was the first goal. After that I wanted to become a consistently good AFL player which I think in the last year and a half I got to accomplish."

McKenna's final few months in Australia were a turbulent affair, having become the first AFL player to test positive for Covid-19 in June leading to a one-week suspension for breaching return to play protocols.

Two negative tests followed but the incident received considerable media attention, although McKenna insists that his decision to return home had already been finalised.

"At this point I was always going to finish my AFL career at the end of this year, but it probably made it a bit easier," he said.

"I wouldn't say the book is fully closed. I think I'll go home for a few years and if I feel like I've left something out here, maybe the chance of winning the Premiership I could possibly come back out."

Conor McKenna
McKenna made 79 appearances for Essendon having spent six years in Australia

'I have to get a job for the first time'

Tyrone's Championship campaign is due to begin against Donegal on either 31 October or 1 November.

With no back door, the Red Hands' meeting with the Ulster champions is a straight knockout game as the GAA alters the competition's structure in order to complete the tournament before the end of the year.

For McKenna, it is not just the Championship that will look different as he contends with returning to work outside of sport.

"I have to get a job for the first time which is going to be interesting," he said.

"I think I'll go back to college or university on a part-time basis then probably get a part-time job at the start.

"From running round every day kicking a football to, I don't know, probably being back on a building site with my dad or at college, it's going to be a different lifestyle for sure."

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