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Tuesday, October 20 2020 @ 02:28 pm ACDT

McKenna Heads Irish Contingent Returning

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Callum Twomey reports on the www.afl.com.au website that Essendon’s Conor McKenna and a host of other Irish players who returned back to their home country during the AFL shutdown are returning ready for Round 2.

ESSENDON speedster Conor McKenna will arrive back in Melbourne on Saturday for what could be his last season in the AFL facing a complicated race to be ready for round two.

McKenna, like Essendon's other two Irishmen Cian McBride and Ross McQuillan, headed back to their homeland in March after the season was suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

He is due back in Australia on Saturday evening but then has to enter a strict 14-day quarantine period like other overseas travellers returning to the country.

It means the dashing half-back, who finished fourth in the club's best and fairest last season, will not be able to train with the Bombers until at least May 30, despite clubs being able to gather in groups for sessions from Monday.

That short turnaround leaves the important Bomber facing an uphill battle to be ready to go for the season's restart, which will commence on June 11.

The Bombers' other Irishmen are awaiting changes in their visa statuses before they are able to return having signed with the club last year.

Brisbane's James Madden, Collingwood pair Mark Keane and Anton Tohill and the Giants' Callum Brown are other Irish players who jetted back home during the game's shutdown period.

McKenna has battled homesickness throughout his career at Essendon and the 24-year-old recently admitted he has dreams of playing Gaelic football again within the next few seasons.

"I will be home in the next few years," McKenna told the BBC.

"Whether it's this year or next year I'm just not sure at the minute.

"It's been five-and-a-half years now and I always think about the opportunity to come back."

He is contracted until the end of 2021 at Essendon, having signed a four-year deal at the end of 2017. He spent some of his pre-season training with the Bombers' forwards group, with ambitions of switching ends this year.

Of note here is the idea that Irish players along with other international recruits may be the victim of cost cutting by AFL club’s recruiting departments in the financial wake of COVID-19 as well as the AFL’s desire to again reduce playing lists (see Buckley Doubts Future Of International Recruits). It is imperative that the Irish players are able to return and impact the game, keeping alive the prospects for future international recruitment.

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