Tyrone manager Mickey Harte may have a joker in the Tyrone pack when the inter-county season gets underway following Conor McKenna’s decision to return home.
McKenna has announced his retirement from AFL football with immediate effect, acknowledging that the pull of home had finally become irresistible.
The Eglish man has battled homesickness ever since signing for Essendon in 2014.
He made a quick transition and debuted in 2015, going on to score 20 goals in 79 matches for Essendon, but consistently expressed his longing for home and the Bombers facilitated a number of trips back to Ireland apart from the off-season.
McKenna make a key go in the Dons’ side, with his blinding speed from half-back, while his use of the Gaelic football solo wowed supporters and media commentators alike in Australia.
He finished in the top five in the Dons’ best-and-fairest (player of the year) awards last season but only played six times this term, due to injury and prior to that, falling foul of Covid-19 self-isolation protocols.
The 24-year-old suffered an intense media backlash for that incident, although he tested negative twice having initially tested positive, and rarely seemed settled since.
He has not played since the round 12 game against St Kilda.
“I do really feel the time is now right for me to return home to Ireland,” McKenna said in a statement.
“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.”
McKenna’s announcement comes just a week after Pearce Hanley called time on his career.