| 13.8°C Dublin

McKenna happy to be back in Tyrone where he belongs

Close

NEW CHAPTER: Conor McKenna. Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images

NEW CHAPTER: Conor McKenna. Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images

NEW CHAPTER: Conor McKenna. Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images

Conor McKenna has never hidden the homesickness which tugged at him throughout his six years Down Under but the Tyrone native knew the writing was on the wall of his AFL career when he made an unexpected trip home earlier this year.

There has always been a hesitancy heading back to Australia at the start of each season but those feelings were heightened before this year's AFL season and they never evaporated before the dam burst in February.

"There were a couple of training sessions that we were doing throughout the year where I just found myself walking off the pitch and sometimes breaking down during training and not really knowing why I was here and really questioning it," McKenna says.

"I walked in one day after training and told the manager that I wanted to go home. That was maybe at 10 o'clock in the morning and I flew home to Ireland that afternoon at three. Coming back after that was pretty tough and I just never really got into the swing of things.

"I was going through the motions and wasn't even putting my hand up for selection to play AFL so I probably just said it was a bit pointless. It should have happened five or six weeks ago but what can you do?"

McKenna has "always been a home bird" and no sooner had each AFL season concluded, than he would be on a plane back to Ireland.

Having arrived back in Eglish over the weekend, the former Essendon Bomber has a "massive weight" off his shoulders.

"I got the same questions, 'Oh, when are you going back?' and it would just keep hitting me that I have to go back to this place. I'd say to mum that I was leaving and she would break down and cry and we'd all end up crying so at least this time they'll be happy tears," he says. "To actually finally retire felt like a weight off my shoulders."

He couldn't thank the Bombers enough for their help throughout a career which yielded 79 Premiership appearances and his own highlight reel on YouTube, such was the skill and ingenuity he displayed with the oval ball.

Essendon even allowed him to mix Gaelic football into his pre-season programme as he trained once a week with the Wolfe Tones club in Melbourne.

Buzzing

The 24-year-old is "buzzing" to get back with his club, while initial conversations with Tyrone boss Mickey Harte are expected to yield a place in the Red Hand squad.

Switching from life as a professional athlete looks set to commence with part-time education at Ulster University Jordanstown. But he hasn't closed the door entirely on the AFL.

"I couldn't see myself going back for a holiday. The only possibility would be to come back playing AFL, if that ever happens in the next five or six years," he says.

"With the way the seasons are now, there's an AFL draft in the middle of the season, in June. So that'd be a possibility. If you were playing for Tyrone and it didn't go well and your club was out, you'd have no football for the rest of the year and there would be no reason that you couldn't go out for the last three months of the season."