ENDA McGinley admits he’s more than just a little excited about what Conor McKenna is going to bring to the Tyrone set-up.
The Red Hand men get back down to business this Sunday with a NFL encounter away to main foes Donegal. It’s a strange dynamic with that rivalling pair set to tangle again just a fortnight later, back at the same venue, as the Ulster SFC throws in with a bang.
McGinley, a three-time All-Ireland winner under Mickey Harte, believes the former Essendon AFL star has all the attributes to make an immediate impact.
Because of Covid-19, a restructured and concentrated Championship, and because all the marbles are on the line in MacCumhaill Park in that huge provincial opener; McGinley not only hopes but feels things are set up perfectly for the Eglish man to hit the ground running.
“It’s exciting,” he told Gaelic Life. “That’s the only word you can use. It is a game changer for Tyrone, I feel. Now, everyone has to be cautious. You don’t want to put too much pressure on the lad’s shoulders.
“He’s still a young fella, just home and still adapting to all of that. The nice, cold winter weather that’s coming in, that’ll take a little getting used to again!
“But for me, even though he was in Australia it was always a short term thing. It felt like that. He loves home. A lot of Irish lads go there and their complete focus was AFL. With Conor, it never quite felt like that.“He always seemed to have a huge chunk of his heart still back in Eglish, in GAA and in Tyrone. He never really left. I have no doubt in my mind that an O’Neill’s ball was never far away.”
McKenna scored 20 goals in 79 matches for Essendon. And despite spending six years in Oz, McGinley feels he can shine right away, be it this weekend or, if Harte feels it’s nessessery, on Sunday, November 1 as the hunt for the Anglo Celt begins.
“Even watching him play out there, some of the things he was doing was really Gaelic football skills. He also came back home and played for his club last year.
“I think he’ll be much more in tune with Gaelic football than a lot of others that have come home and maybe even struggled because he never really left it behind.
“His type of game athletically, is is the most priceless thing in the modern game now. He’s this energetic, balling athlete through the middle third. And that all comes with the right strength, pace and serious skill.
“Those are nuclear weapons in modern football. He is top level. I don’t think many players are going to be absolutely flying. But coming from that professional background and wanting to show what he can do; it could be absolutely brilliant.
“I do think everything is going to be that bit more open, simply because sides haven’t had that cohesion and time. We could well see, hopefully, more open football.
“He’ll also be a great addition to the squad. His attitude, conditioning, it’s all top notch. I’ve met him a few times and he’s an absolute gentleman. I think he’ll be biting at the bit.”
By Frank Craig