Conor McKenna is said to be facing a long suspension after reportedly admitting to flouting the AFL’s virus protocols.
Essendon could be forced to resume the AFL season without a group of their best players as the fallout continues from McKenna's positive COVID-19 test.
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McKenna returned a positive result on Saturday, forcing Sunday's planned Essendon-Melbourne at the MCG to be postponed indefinitely.
The club's immediate playing future - including scheduled matches against Carlton (June 27) and Collingwood (July 3) in the next fortnight - is now uncertain.
But McKenna’s future is even more uncertain after it emerged on Sunday that he’d apparently admitted to attending an open house viewing and visiting family and friends despite multiple warnings.
It’s also emerged that McKenna was at an indoor meeting with the whole Essendon backline on Saturday while his coronavirus test was still pending.
“Conor McKenna could be suspended for the foreseeable future for sparking the COVID breach that has of course plunged the AFL season into peril again,” Herald Sun reporter Jon Ralph told Fox Footy’s Sunday Ticket.
“The details of his breach have been revealed, he has confirmed that he did attend an open house viewing, his lease was up for his house so he looked at another house. Then he effectively went to visit family and friends, the host parents who effectively boarded him when he came across from Ireland.
“He did that despite the explicit warnings that this was a COVID breach, despite the explicit warnings that Essendon had handed their players after Brandon Zerk-Thatcher was suspended for a COVID breach last week.”
The AFL has previously warned that players caught breaking virus rules could face deregistration, however Ralph doesn’t believe McKenna is in danger of that fate.
“I don’t think anyone feels like that’s (deregistration) the likely outcome, but certainly it will be at the very severe end of the scale there with the message they need to send to players that we need to look after his mental health, but we absolutely need to safeguard this competition,” Ralph said.
“I don’t think he’ll be suspended for a couple of weeks, I think it will be much longer than that.”
Here’s the vision... judge for yourself. pic.twitter.com/5SikP1TbdZ— Tim Hipsley (@TimHipsley) June 20, 2020
Essendon facing prospect of severely depleted team
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will advise “close contacts” of McKenna to go into quarantine for two weeks, but an investigation might not be completed until Tuesday.
Essendon chief executive Xavier Campbell said the club will give the DHHS as much information as possible about McKenna's movements.
“The main (training) session (on Friday) will be where most of the focus will be,” he told 3AW.
“We've spent an enormous amount of time going through all of the data, all the detail and all that footage is being analysed right now.
“That information will be supplied to them (DHHS) later (on Sunday) and it will take between 24 and 48 hours for them to go through and analyse it to help determine who the close contacts are.”
AFL legal counsel Andrew Dillon hopes a decision on which Essendon players would be required to quarantine will be reached imminently.
“There is a definition for close contact and it's if you are face-to-face for more than 15 minutes or confined space for more than two hours,” Dillon told 3AW.
“What we are doing with Essendon and working with the department on is saying how does that definition apply in an Essendon training circumstance.”
News Corp reported that McKenna had trained in a small group with Adam Saad, Cale Hooker, Michael Hurley, Matt Guelfi, Jordan Ridley and Mason Redman.
It could mean the Bombers are left without a group of their best defenders for the next fortnight.
But Dillon said AFL rules are “pretty clear” on clubs playing matches while players are in quarantine.
“As long as we have 22 players and a couple of emergencies you are able to have a team,” Dillon said.
“So as far as the AFL (is concerned), we have enough players to fill a team with a couple of emergencies we are ready to go.”