McKenna in mix for Bombers season opener

Jason Phelan
Conor McKenna has returned to Essendon from Ireland and is tipped to play in round one of the AFL

Returned Essendon speedster Conor McKenna is expected to push for selection in the club's AFL season opener, but doubt continues to surround the fitness of Dyson Heppell.

The Bombers skipper has trained sparingly since having surgery last month to remove a screw that was inserted as part of a post-season operation to alleviate the pain of a nagging foot injury.

McKenna was back at training on Thursday after returning from Ireland.

The homesick 23-year-old's playing future was thrown into doubt in early February when he flew out of Melbourne for an indefinite break to be with family.

But key Essendon figures believe the disruption hasn't significantly hindered his preparation for the March 21 round one clash with Fremantle at Marvel Stadium.

"We're confident that Conor has done the work over in Ireland," assistant coach James Kelly told reporters on Thursday.

"He's told us what he's done and we're happy with that, so he's available.

"He's in good shape."

Kelly was less optimistic when quizzed about Heppell's status ahead of Monday's final pre-season series clash with Geelong in Colac.

"Guys like Hepp and (Cale Hooker) are still a little way off," he said.

"(Heppell) is progressing really well and he's getting the work in that he needs to but in terms of this week it's probably a no."

The Bombers have suffered through a difficult summer on the injury front.

In addition to Heppell, key players Orazio Fantasia (hip), Joe Daniher (groin), Michael Hurley (shoulder), Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (calf), Tom Bellchambers (knee), David Zaharakis (ankle) and Hooker (hip) have been slowed by injury.

Fantasia, Hurley, Zaharakis and McDonald-Tipungwuti played in last week's pre-season series win over West Coast.

Daniher's return from a debilitating groin injury remains uncertain despite recent progress.

On a brighter note, the club has signed Tom Hird, the son of club great and former coach James Hird as a Category B rookie.

Hird, who pursued a soccer career as a junior and had trialled in the Netherlands, will be the fourth generation of his family to have been on the Bombers' list.

"We have been following him closely in the event he chose to return to football from elite soccer and pleasingly for our club, he has come to that decision," list manager Adrian Dodoro said.

"He is an athletic young sportsman with natural talent, but we will be taking a patient approach with his development as he begins to build his strength."