Essendon defender Conor McKenna has announced his AFL retirement at the age of just 24 following the most turbulent year of his short career.
McKenna announced his retirement on Tuesday, effective immediately, after 79 games over six years for the Bombers.
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The Irishman has struggled with intense homesickness this year, and he also tested positive for COVID-19 in June, which forced the postponement of Essendon's clash with Melbourne.
McKenna said the decision to hang up the boots was incredibly difficult.
“I do really feel the time is now right for me to return home to Ireland,” McKenna said.
“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.”
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Essendon's general manager of football Dan Richardson knew the retirement call would come at some point.
“In recent years we've had very open and honest conversations with Conor, and his desire to return back home to Ireland has been no secret,” Richardson said.
“It has been a very trying year for Conor personally, too, but ultimately we accept that the pull to return home was too strong.”
McKenna was recruited by Essendon in late 2014 as a category B rookie from County Tyrone.
He went on to make his debut against Richmond in round 22, 2015 at the MCG, slotting a goal with his first kick in the AFL.
Conor McKenna has officially called time on his AFL career. Was expected but still remains a loss for both Essendon and the game itself. Was a fantastic player over the last two years.— Chris De Silva (@cdesilva23) September 8, 2020
I’m no Essendon supporter but it’s very sad to hear that Conor McKenna has retired from the AFL. Can only hope he isn’t remembered solely for being the first footballer to get COVID in Australia. He possessed lots of talent and was awesome to watch. Best of luck Conor— Sean Mortell (@SeanMortell1) September 8, 2020
As much as we all saw it coming, I’m devastated Conor McKenna is leaving. One of the very few players on our list that actually impacted games for us. Could he do some frustratingly stupid stuff on field? Yes, but he took the game on & tried to do some damage. Hard to replace....— Jimmy. (@ImJimmyMcCallum) September 8, 2020
Conor McKenna was tremendous fun to watch but I couldn't be happier for him. Players prioritising their mental wellbeing over AFL paychecks should always be applauded.— Matt Goss (@mattgoss_) September 8, 2020