Monday 23 April 2018

McKenna planning Tyrone return but AFL remains priority for now

In attendance at the announcement of EirGrid as team sponsor for the International Rules side that will travel to Australia over the two-test series in November is Ireland International Rules player Conor McKenna. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
In attendance at the announcement of EirGrid as team sponsor for the International Rules side that will travel to Australia over the two-test series in November is Ireland International Rules player Conor McKenna. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Conor McKenna still plans on pulling on the Tyrone jersey at some stage in the future, despite recently signing a four-year contract to stay with Essendon in the AFL.

The length of the deal is a significant vote of confidence in the Eglish man from the Melbourne-based outfit, and it represents the huge progress he has made since first heading Down Under, when he set himself a much more modest goal.

"I just said 'play one game'. And if I only played one game and I didn't like it, I would come home," McKenna said.

"I started last year more than the first year and it gets a bit easier when you get used to the lifestyle, just being away from your family and friends, rather than the game itself.

"I said I would never leave unless I played one game. That's what was going on in my head for that."

The rumour mill suggested other clubs were interested in the Tyrone man but he was happy to stay with Essendon given the progress he has made. He signed for the club in 2014 but he was a regular in the season just past.

"I probably surprised myself a bit this year," he admitted. "I gave myself a target of maybe 10 games this year and I've played 19 so I would say it went better than what I thought. But sure, I always had a bit of belief in myself, it was to try and get a bit of consistency.

"You just know that you are there (with Essendon) for the right reasons in the back of your head. When you are playing AFL, that's what you are there for."

The new deal will bring McKenna up until he has turned 25 in 2021. However, he insists a stint with Tyrone is still on his agenda.

"At some stage I do hope to come home and play for my club and my county. At the minute I am happy there and I'll see after four years what happens. I'll stay for as long as I can, I think.

"I haven't really thought about it too much. I know in my head that I do want at some stage to come home and play for Tyrone and give it a crack.

"But, whether that is come home and stay and play for three or four years or go home, play one year and go back out, I don't know.

"Definitely, it's in the back of my head."

McKenna watches as many Tyrone games as he can but felt the pull of home most when his former team-mates won an All-Ireland U-21 title a couple of years ago.

"The biggest one was the U-21s, they won the All-Ireland two years ago and I played amongst those lads so that was probably the big homesickness one for me. I'd love to be playing but that's the choice."

McKenna is now gearing up for a run with the International Rules squad. Pulling on the Tyrone jersey isn't on the horizon just now but there are no regrets.

"The reason I wanted to go is if I didn't go I would probably regret it for the rest of my life I'd say.

"I said if I went, and went at it for a year, and hated it, I'd come home, but at least I wanted to try it. I am happy out at the minute."

Irish Independent

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