Sam McClure has questioned Conor McKenna’s decision to play Gaelic football back home in Ireland.
According to a report from AFL.com.au’s Marc McGowan, the dashing Essendon half-back took part in a relegation play-off game for his local club Eglish in County Tyrone on the weekend without informing the Bombers.
McKenna’s is the latest in a string of extra-curricular activities undertaken by AFL players outside of the football season and McClure believes the nature of this particular circumstance is unacceptable.
“Upon contacting Essendon, club officials said they hadn’t spoken to McKenna and would wait until he returned to Melbourne to find out the full details of why he played,” McClure said on SEN’s Time On.
“We, and I say we as a collective, not just talking about the media or journalism, but fans as well, (would be) pretty frustrated about previous incidents where players had done things outside of football season that could potentially get them injured.
“We were talking about this very case 12 months ago, not even, when Ollie Wines injured himself wakeboarding. Very different scenario, I know, but there have been numerous occasions in the last five years of controversial injuries happening outside of footy.
“Tom Liberatore wasn’t injured but he was criticised when he was filmed playing in the AFL Asia Cup in Vietnam after they (the Western Bulldogs) won that elusive flag.
“Josh Gibson injured himself getting out of the bath tub all those years ago, Sharrod Wellingham on the trampoline, Dane Rampe a couple of years ago fell over a chain when jogging outside the SCG and it was only a few weeks ago that some people had the gall to criticise Charlie Curnow for standing outside in his backyard and shooting a couple of hoops with mates.
“Now if we are going to criticise them, what on earth is Conor McKenna – who is paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by Essendon – doing playing in a sanctioned club game in another league in a relegation play-off game?
“I know they don’t tackle in Gaelic footy but they run pretty fast, they bump, they twist, they turn.
“I’m pretty strong on this. If we think what Ollie Wines was doing last year on a wakeboard was wrong, then this is worse.”
McClure insists that professional footballers must be able to live their own lives outside of the game but made his thoughts clear on where the line must be drawn.
“I am all for players having a life outside of footy. In fact, I think we wind these guys up like a top and put so much pressure on them for 10 months of the year that they should get out and do as much living as they can in those two or three months off,” he added.
“Ollie Wines if he grew up wakeboarding, should be able to do it. It is dangerous, as is snowboarding, as is getting on a motorcycle – I get all of those things.
“If we are going to criticise that, or allow it, particularly when the Essendon Footy Club doesn’t know… Essendon have invested a lot of time and money on Conor McKenna. They can’t have him going over to Ireland and playing in a relegation play-off game in another sport where he can get injured.”
McClure continued: “My take on this may be completely wrong. It may be completely off-kilter. But the line for me with this is a really simple one: you don’t play a competitive sport in a properly sanctioned match for anyone else other than the club that pays you money to do that for them.
“If you want to get on a motorcycle, go do that. If you want to get on a wakeboard, fine. If you want to go snowboarding, fine.
“If you want to play a sanctioned sport for another club, you play for us. That’s my take.”
McKenna enjoyed his best season in the red and black in 2019, finishing fourth in Essenodn's best and fairest.
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