Conor McKenna retires from AFL to return home to Tyrone

Essendon defender scored 20 goals in 79 AFL games but has had a difficult year

Conor McKenna has played his last game for the Essendon Bombers. File photograph: Getty Images

Conor McKenna has played his last game for the Essendon Bombers. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Conor McKenna has announced his immediate AFL retirement as he intends to return home to Tyrone.

The 24-year-old tested positive for Covid-19 in June, leading to the postponement of Essendon’s match against Melbourne, and weeks of media coverage centered upon him in the aftermath.

The Essendon defender, who has also struggled badly with homesickness throughout his time in Australia, was contracted until the end of 2021.

Since his recruitment in late 2014 as a category B rookie, McKenna has made 79 appearances for Essendon. His first of which coming in 2015 when he scored with his first kick in the AFL at the MCG. Goal number one of 20 in total for the club.

Despite a broken hand setting him back, McKenna made six appearances this season, catching the eye with his electric pace and Gaelic football-style ‘solo dummy’.

He was named in the The AFL Players Association’s 22Under22 side in 2018 and placed fourth in the club’s Crichton Medal in 2019. Essendon’s award for the best and fairest player of the year.

“I do really feel the time is now right for me to return home to Ireland,” McKenna told Essendon’s club website.

“I’ve made no secret of the fact that at some point, I’d want to be returning home to my family and I’ve been weighing up the decision recently. It’s been a difficult year for everyone, but it’s also been a chance to take stock and weigh up several things in my life, so the time is right.

“I will always be grateful for Essendon’s support of both myself and my family since I arrived at the club from the other side of the world at the end of 2014.

“I will miss my teammates and coaches and I want to thank the Bomber fans for their support across the journey too. I will always wish the boys well and hope they see success in the not too distant future.”

Lining out at centre forward, McKenna scored 1-2 in Tyrone’s 2013 All-Ireland minor final defeat to Mayo. In a failed attempt to keep him at home, he was brought into the Tyrone senior panel the following year.

Tyrone have reached the last four of the All-Ireland for the past three years: losing the 2017 semi-final to Dublin, the 2018 final to Dublin again, and last year they were beaten by Kerry at the same stage. McKenna’s return would provide a huge boost to Mickey Harte’s squad this winter and beyond.

Essendon’s general manager Dan Richardson has thanked the Irishman for his services to the club over the past six seasons:

“We understand Conor’s decision to return home to be with his family and while we are disappointed to lose a player of his calibre from our list, he departs the club with our support to return to his homeland.

“In recent years, we’ve had very open and honest conversations with Conor, and his desire to return back home to Ireland has been no secret.

“It has been a very trying year for Conor personally, too, but ultimately we accept that the pull to return home was too strong. We will continue to provide our full support to Conor as he embarks on the next phase of his life.

“We thank Conor for his contribution to the club and wish both he and his family all the very best for their future endeavours.”

McKenna last featured in the round 12 game against St Kilda in the middle of August.

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