Conor McKenna has called for the AFL to consider penalties for Melbourne media that report in an inaccurate or unethical way after his time in the spotlight after a positive coronavirus test in June.
McKenna said there should be “repercussions” and labelled the behaviour of some sections of the football media “disgraceful”.
The Irishman, who played 79 matches for Essendon, is retiring with immediate effect and returning home after battling homesickness for much of this year.
“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.”
McKenna said the urge to be the first one with the story superseded accurate reporting.
“It’s not on and there’s no real consequences for people,” he said.
“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.”
Nose blowing analysis a baffling affair
McKenna was particularly disturbed by 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 talented defender was surprised by the lack of reporting on his physical condition.
“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.”
McKenna said he feared for the mental health of young players, who sometimes faced intense scrutiny through no fault of their own.
“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.”
The hub didn’t help
The 24-year-old also opened up on his decision to retire and admitted that this year’s season, away from Melbourne, had contributed to his feeling that it was time to go home.
The former Gaelic footballer has always been open about his battle with homesickness, saying the hub made it even worse.
“When I’m back in Melbourne, I enjoy my football but also my time away from football,” he said.
“I always enjoyed meeting up with Irish friends on a Saturday night, just to give me that feeling of home.”
McKenna first started seriously thinking about ending his AFL career this season about six weeks ago “because I didn’t feel like I wanted to play AFL”.
He tried to motivate himself with a positional change, from defender to forward, but it didn’t work and he eventually took himself out of contention for selection.
“I enjoyed it for a game and then in the second game, I just had no motivation,” McKenna said.
He said he appreciated the support of coaches John Worsfold and Ben Rutten, who did everything they could to support him, including allowing the switch to the forward line.
McKenna spoke to the team’s coaches a few days ago and they all agreed there was no point in McKenna struggling through the rest of the season, especially if he was not going to return in 2021.
What’s next for McKenna?
Despite homesickness bringing an end to his stint in Australia, he is not ruling out a return one day, “in two or three years’ time”.
“I don’t think the book is fully closed, but for now I just want to be home and around friends and family,” he said.
Just like Tadhg Kennelly did with Kerry in 2009 — four years after winning the AFL premiership with the Sydney Swans — McKenna is now eyeing off an All-Ireland title with his native county, Tyrone.
“That’s always been the dream. Hopefully that’s something I can do at some stage,” he said.
“I’ll be going back to my club first. I’ll have to quarantine again, but after that I’ll be back out on the Gaelic pitch and I’ll take it from there.”