Conor McKenna has branded sections of the Australian media “harsh and negative” and labelled their coverage of his positive coronavirus test “disgraceful” following his announcement that he is to return to Ireland permanently after six years in Oz.
cKenna, 24, signed for Essendon in October, 2014 and played a total of 79 games in the AFL but has suffered repeated bouts of homesickness and despite his contract running until 2021, has decided to end his stint with the Bombers.
In an interview with ABC in Australia, McKenna has called for the AFL to consider penalties for Melbourne media for unethical reporting following coverage of his positive covid test in June.
“No matter what job you have in life there are always repercussions, but the way the media works in Melbourne there doesn’t seem to be,” McKenna said.
“There’s just a free-for-all to say whatever they want. If there are no repercussions, they’ll just continue to do that and treat players like a piece of meat.
“If there are no repercussions, why would they change? I think it’s something the AFL should look at.”
“It’s not on and there’s no real consequences for people,” he said.
McKenna was subjected to harsh judgement by sections of the Australian media after a positive test for coronavirus, including reports suggesting he had deliberately broken quarantine restrictions with his club by attending an open house viewing and visiting family.
“They’re willing to say whatever they want so they can be the first person to say it, rather than being right. I definitely think they should be held accountable,” he said referencing the use of footage of him clearing his nose at training, which some media attempted to medically assess.
“They’re not specialised in that so I don’t understand why they’d speak about that,” he said.
“Speak about what you know. If you don’t know anything, don’t speak about it.”
“The reality of it is, I had a deadly disease … (but) people were more worried about the AFL being put off than my actual life,” he said.
“They put AFL football before me. No matter who it is, they should never be treated like that … one thing I won’t miss about Australia is the majority of the AFL media. I think they’re harsh and negative and don’t take into consideration how people might deal with it.”
“It’s OK for me because I don’t care what the majority of the media think about me, but if someone else was in that position it could affect them in a very bad way,” he said.
“The way the media acted for two or three days after (the positive test) was disgraceful.”
In a separate controversy, North Melbourne player Luke McDonald was forced to apologise to McKenna after an incident in which he dramatically covered his face, seemingly referencing the positive COVID-19 test, after a scuffle when the teams met in July.
In February, McKenna came back to Ireland due to what his Essendon described as “homesickness and family-related reasons”.
The Bombers general manager of football Dan Richardson insisted at the time that they were “completely supportive of Conor returning home to be with his family at this time”.
In an interview in April, McKenna put a timeline on a return home, although this morning’s news from Australia still comes as something of a surprise.
“I will be home in the next few years,” McKenna predicted. “Whether it’s this year or next year I’m just not sure at the minute.
“I’ve always had the idea I’d like to return home to Eglish and if good enough, for Tyrone. It’s been five-and-a-half years now and I always think about the opportunity to come back.”
Last year, he drew the ire of Essendon after lining out for Eglish in a relegation play-off game. He scored a second half goal in that game to help his club retain their status.
The expectation now is that he will be part of Tyrone’s squad for their forthcoming championship campaign.
In 2018, there were whispers he would be added to Mickey Harte’s match day panel for the All-Ireland final with Dublin although ultimately, nothing came of the rumours.