'Kidding themselves': Essendon's 'catastrophic' Conor McKenna mistake

The Conor McKenna situation at Essendon has rocked the AFL club. Pic: Getty

A heated debate has broken out about the virus crisis at Essendon that threatened to decimate their defensive line.

Conor McKenna's positive test for COVID-19 rocked the competition over the weekend and threw a spanner in the works of Essendon's immediate plans.

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The Bombers' entire playing list was tested at Marvel Stadium on Monday, with health authorities determining only one player (James Stewart) was in close contact with McKenna.

No other player or staff member returned a positive result, but Stewart and McKenna will now be forced to quarantine for 14 days.

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However the situation at the Bombers meant the club risked having their first-choice back-line ruled out because they decided to train the group together.

The AFL's restrictions on the number of players who could train together was implemented in part to safeguard clubs from such a scenario.

Brownlow medallist Gerard Healy said Essendon made a “ridiculous” decision to risk having Adam Saad, Cale Hooker, Michael Hurley, Matt Guelfi, Jordan Ridley and Mason Redman all wiped out for two weeks alongside McKenna - by not splitting up the defensive group during training.

“The reason the advice was given was for the very reason that happened on the weekend. If one of your guys goes down, then you lose the group,” Healy said on Fox Footy’s On the Couch.

"If they make the same mistake, they’re kidding themselves. Collingwood’s doing it differently, as are two or three other clubs I’ve spoken to.”

Gerard Healy says Essendon was crazy to have their defensive unit train together amid the virus threat. Pic: Getty

St Kilda great Nick Riewoldt agreed, insisting the risk associated with keeping your positional units together far outweighed the benefits.

“You’ve got to weigh up the risk and the reward," Riewoldt said. “The reward, if you’re able to keep them together, might be minimal. But if it goes pear-shaped like it has, it could be catastrophic.”

However, Brisbane Lions legend Jonathan Brown said he completely understood why Essendon would want to keep their defensive unit together in training.

“I can’t knock the Essendon footy club for keeping their defenders together. The premiers are doing it. The premiership team is doing it," Brown said.

“You can’t underestimate the cohesion, the importance of the cohesion between the units - the defensive units, midfield unit, forward unit - in this shortened season.”

Conor McKenna (second from left) trains with some Essendon teammates. Pic: Getty

Full-contact training has since been banned at all clubs by the AFL in response to McKenna's test result and with COVID-19 cases continuing to increase at concerning levels in Victoria.

Clubs will be permitted to continue contact training in groups of up to nine, and larger groups can still conduct ball movement drills without contact.

with AAP