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Conor McKenna's ability and attitude prove he's going to be a star asset for Tyrone once again, says Kieran McGeary

Gaelic Games


Conor McKenna chases down Donegal ace Ryan McHugh

Conor McKenna chases down Donegal ace Ryan McHugh

©INPHO/Lorcan Doherty

Conor McKenna chases down Donegal ace Ryan McHugh

Kieran McGeary took himself off to a local club game in Tyrone a few weeks back in anticipation, like the considerable crowd that had gathered, of seeing what Conor McKenna might do.

Not long back from cutting his AFL contract short, McKenna's potential presence excited McGeary, heightening the scope for what they could do as a team when the inter-county games resumed. 

McKenna didn't play for his club in Eglish that day, but McGeary's expectations have not been misplaced. Just two weekends in and already it is apparent just how profound the former Essendon star's impact is going to be, not just in the week or weeks ahead, but in the months and years.

Coupled with Darragh Canavan's debut, it's not hard to be excited at the prospect of what this particular axis can get up to.

A season that threw up such mixed fortunes for Tyrone - home wins over Dublin and Kerry tempered by the loss of Cathal McShane through injury and the continued absence of Mattie Donnelly - is radiating much light again, and it's McKenna who is holding the torch.

"Take a look at what he did against Mayo. He's a natural athlete," enthused McGeary.

"He looked like he'd been one of our more experienced players for a number of years. He's a big lad, he's strong, he's as down-to-earth as it comes. Honestly, you wouldn't have thought he was a professional athlete, the way he's come back to training. He has a fantastic attitude, he wants to be out there, rain, snow or wind.

"He wants to be playing with a Tyrone jersey on his back. I think he proves that every time he goes out on the pitch and he'll continue to do his best."

McGeary feels McKenna can offer huge versatility to Tyrone, with suitability from half-back through the lines to the full-forward line, where he can compensate for the absence of McShane.

"You'd like to see what those two could do up front if they're both played inside. He's a great asset for us. You could play him centre half-back next week and he could run the legs off a centre-half-forward; you could put him wing half-back, you could put him wing-half-forward. He's an extremely versatile player.

"I remember 'Kiddo' playing as a minor. I played with him and he was no different. He's the exact same player. Look at every team, they're making the most of the mark. He's a great asset for us."

Still, McGeary doesn't see McKenna's quick adaption as enough to justify favouritism in Ballybofey for next weekend's crunch Ulster Championship quarter-final against Donegal that will see one of the big-hitters removed.

"It was the biggest four-point win for them," he said of their recent league loss to Declan Bonner's side. "It should have been more and they probably know that. I don't know where you go about starting to nail one thing that will fix it. There's a lot of things that need to be put in place."

Despite the tense atmosphere generated by a crowd that normally prevails between these rivals when they meet, McGeary doesn't think it will be all that strange.

"You're faced with it on a Tuesday and a Thursday, wherever you're training at. You're shouting and roaring and sometimes your communication can be better.

"They say the crowd has a massive factor on the game, and yes it does, but when you're five minutes in and you're in the depths of it, you can forget about that. You just get on with it. It's a bit like playing at your club, you've a few people just standing watching.

"Sometimes it nearly takes the pressure off players to perform, to win that big high ball or score that free-kick."

Belfast Telegraph