CM – “He followed his heart” – McKenna’s dream about to come true

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The HARROW SCHOOL, located in a suburb of Greater London, is one of the most prestigious in the world.

Thanks to its historical motto, it would play a major role in the athletic career of Tyrone-born Conor McKenna. </ Your is an attitude of lasting positivity. Every question, every concern must be answered as constructively as possible.

So when the AFL came forward and asked if they could convert part of their 300 hectares into an Aussie Rules field to host a European process, said the school immediately Yes.

It was decided to arrange a meeting between the AFL Academy and interested parties from Denmark, England, Germany, Ireland and Sweden on the impressive site. Current AFL stars such as Christian Petracca and Isaac Heeney played that day.

An 18-year-old McKenna traveled to Great Britain with his parents for the game. The appeal of a professional contract in Australia was obvious. Within an hour, the Eglish St. Patrick’s clubman had a choice of several.

He finished with four goals. The administrators present are still giggling at the memory of the Boy Scouts who literally surrounded the teenager and his family. Six different clubs expressed their interest. Essendon eventually won the battle.

He was skillful and tenacious and ambitious, but none of these qualities could alleviate homesickness. McKenna made progress on the field and eventually garnered 79 AFL appearances while the off-field bout continued. Tyrone kept calling.

Different resolutions were searched and tested. Several family members moved to Melbourne at one point. Weekly meetings with the local Gaelic football team, the Wolfe Tones, have been arranged. McKenna was regularly spotted exploring Flemington, where he could discover his other sporting interest: horse racing.

In public, the club was furious when he played for his hometown club without permission in the county championship. There was a general understanding that McKenna did things his way. The only demand should be kept up to date in the future.

« Conor was a big homebird, » says Cian McBride from Meath. He just finished his sophomore year at Essendon and was McKenna’s roommate in Melbourne last year.

« He knew he would go home one day and all that Covid stuff in his senior year didn’t help. He had tough skin too, but you go where you feel you belong. This stuff doesn’t make you feel welcome.

« Don’t get me wrong, I think he enjoyed his time here. See how many of us keep it in mind. I know myself that one day I’ll go home and play with Meath, please God.

« He could have stayed here another seven or eight years; he was so good. But in the end he followed his heart. I admire him for that. ”

It was Dan Richardson, then Essendon’s General Manager of Football, who announced McKenna’s resignation. He and Welfare Manager Matt Little worked closely with the Tyrone man and his family while down under.

Richardson is particularly well positioned to understand the place of honor in the hearts of Irish recruits. His father, Barry Richardson, was the first to travel to Ireland with Ron Barassi and unearth external jewels. Barry recruited Sean Wight and Jim Stynes, the Boy Scouts for GAA players in Aussie Rules.

“When Sean first came he lived with my late grandmother because his parents wouldn’t let him come to Australia unless they did , he went to mass every week. Since my grandmother is a Catholic, she promised them that she would see him go, ”recalls Richardson.

Your policy with McKenna was complex. The club has built close ties with its family and host family. They wanted to please the electric half-back and the club. A misstep in both directions could make the difference.

“For me it’s about finding the balance between supporting the individual in what we want to do and the broader group. That certainly presented the club with challenges. I’m not going to sit here and say that everything was right or not.

“You weigh what is good for the individual and what is good for the group as a whole. A certain standard that you all have to accept.

“We like players who can play to their strengths and show their individual flair, as long as they operate within the framework of team rules and culture. Conor, one could argue, has crossed the line. But there was enough great stuff, enough X-Factor, that was of great value. ”

McKenna’s problems with the Melbourne media are well known. He came into her limelight after a false positive coronavirus test. First, journalists rummaged in his neighborhood looking for the site of infection. Recordings of him clearing his throat while training were published and analyzed.

« I just felt very sorry for him, » remembers McBride. “The media out here pick something and really go into it. He wasn’t even positive in the end. I felt like it was hung up to dry.

« We’re trying to put things up and say what we think of them because it’s one of you.

 » I’ve noticed even Australian athletes Get 10% of a story and only fill in the 90%. Last year there were a few things about hubs and that that were just as disproportionate as McKenna. All they need is sniff and off we go. ”

It was one of several dominoes that ended his career. There was a common understanding that the club had acted right by the player and the player wanted the club to do right. Talks about pursuing a lucrative offer from a team outside the football-obsessed Melbourne bubble have been dismissed.

McKenna’s first game as a fan of Tyrone was the 2005 All-Ireland Final. It was time he tried that To help the county reach the same summit again.

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« When Conor and a few other players left, a lot of people concluded that all of these players wanted to leave, and that was related. In my opinion, everyone had their own individual reasons. In Conor’s case he always had homesickness in the back of his mind, just like he made a strong fist at AFL. ”

McKenna celebrates victory in the Ulster Finals with Darren McCurry earlier this year.

Source: Tommy Dickson / INPHO

Any homecoming in the off-season proved particularly difficult. When McKenna’s return flight was delayed by a day, his father had to persuade him to leave.

In the week leading up to the 2020 season, Essendon gave the 25-year-old permission to return home indefinitely.

“I still couldn’t honestly answer whether that was the right decision. On the one hand, it could be argued that it helped his homesickness and kept him to himself a little longer, but on the other hand, he ultimately made the decision to go home.

What are the consequences of Conor McKenna’s chapter in Australia? Largely positive. It improved the club’s understanding and influenced how they make decisions about future Irish prospects. McBride was given permission to return home before Essendon’s final against the Wester Bulldogs last month. Not only can he play for his club and his district in the offseason, but is also one of the very few who does not have to sign an insurance waiver.

Scouts still point to McKenna’s exceptionality as the rare quality that the Irish experiment can be found.

As much as he has accomplished, there is no doubt that the Irishman had the ability to do more. For Richardson, however, it was not an unfulfilled career. His skills are prepared to shine on any stage.

“I don’t think so. As far as I could tell, he wasn’t going to reach his absolute potential in the headspace he was in. He has enormous sporting potential; it doesn’t have to be AFL.
« Whatever his potential is, he’s far more likely to reach it when he’s at home. »
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