"Just to get that Tyrone jersey on my back and playing with the lads, it has been amazing." 10 months ago

"Just to get that Tyrone jersey on my back and playing with the lads, it has been amazing."

You come at the king, you'd better not miss.

When Conor McKenna and Michael Murphy collided in Ballybofey two weeks ago, not many would have fancied the AFL star. Through pure instinct if nothing else, it's usually a case of man against boy when Murphy's around.


But the Tyrone man nailed him so good, that the high king of Donegal ended up on the ground. It may have been a slip that took him there, but McKenna was still standing, and the ball was in Tyrone hands.

There's a new kid on the block, and he has his own way of doing things. McKenna laughs at the memory of the hit now, which you can see here, showing off the war-wound of a bruise his naivety earned him, but he relished the challenge. And it's clear he's eager for more.

"It was good, good to get a bit of a hit. Ah, I can feel it - I have a bruise there still from it," he says, pointing at the sizeable purple patch which decorates his right arm.

McKenna won't have to wait too long for the rematch, with Tyrone heading for the lion's den once more this Sunday in a do-or-die Ulster Championship clash.

The inconvenience of a positive Covid test for a player in Mickey Harte's panel doesn't signify ideal preparation for them, but as McKenna confirmed to the BBC this morning, it was an isolated case for which no other squad member has had to quarantine.


"Obviously it's disappointing for the player involved but for everyone else in the county it shows the protocols are working," he said.

"I suppose you would expect someone to get it the way things are going..."

Meanwhile, McKenna is raring for action. This, an Ulster Championship Sunday, has been something he's dreamed about since long before the AFL journey turned sour.

“Yeah, I suppose I haven’t really enjoyed playing sport for the last year or so. I didn’t really enjoy the AFL the last part of my career so just being back to loving playing and really wanting to be out there is a massive change. I’m really looking forward to it.

“Knock-out - that’s the way our club championship is in Tyrone and I love it. You go out and give everything for that one day and nobody cares about the next day or a second chance so it’s something really to look forward to and adds to the excitement. Whoever deals with that pressure will probably come out the winners on the day..."


Even on the other side of the world, McKenna's mind never strayed too far from the round ball.

"There was about eight Irish boys playing AFL at one stage in Melbourne so we were always meeting every two or three weeks just kicking the ball about. And then I was actually training for a GAA team for three weeks when I was over there to try and help with homesickness. They were letting me train with my brother's team so I always kept in contact with it, and then I always train with my club when I came home in the off season."


Or the red jersey.

"Just to get that Tyrone jersey back on my back and playing with the lads has been amazing..."

As for the transferrable skills, McKenna says that kicking the ball was his style down under, and that it will be up here too.

"Well actually when you start playing AFL, it can be a bit easier kick the AFL ball because you're kicking it straight the whole time. We were using the ball four or five times a week so you get used to it very quick.


"Coming back to Gaelic football, you're kicking a ball inside, outside, punt passing and there's so many options. Whereas AFL, a lot of players kick the ball the same way every time. I loved kicking the ball in the AFL so it's something I'll hopefully add in into Gaelic football..."

And a piece of advice for any youngster thinking of heading over now...

"Looking back now, I would have loved to have maybe two years here first. 18 is probably a bit young. I went from school without really having a proper job or going to university or college. So straight from living with Mam and Dad straight to another country and living with a different family.

"It really hit home that it was a completely different world so I think it would be good if you could push it back a year or two to give boys a chance to go out into the real world and experience that to make a better decision."

And the media...never trust the media.

"The media (In Australia we have to add) was something I was never really a fan of. I think it's a very negative thing over there. For the whole access they get to AFL games and players and the way they train is, is something they need to look up because the AFL media are just [working] on a first come, first serve basis. No matter if it's true, they want to be the first person to say it, no matter what it is."

The whole of Tyrone trusts in Conor McKenna...

Pictured is Eglish St. Patrick and Tyrone Footballer Conor McKenna at AIB’s launch of the GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship. Now in their sixth season sponsoring the football county championship and their 30th year sponsoring the club championships, AIB are proud to support some of #TheToughest games there are. In addition to the launch, AIB will soon be releasing their new TV Ad, a fast-paced and upbeat celebration of the 2020 GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.