After 79 games for the Essendon Football Club, defender Conor McKenna has today called time on his AFL career, effective immediately.

The 24-year-old informed his teammates of his decision on Tuesday morning.

The Irishman said the decision to hang up the boots to return home was incredibly difficult.

“I do really feel the time is now right for me to return home to Ireland,” McKenna said.

“I’ve made no secret of the fact that at some point, I’d want to be returning home to my family and I’ve been weighing up the decision recently. It’s been a difficult year for everyone, but it’s also been a chance to take stock and weigh up several things in my life, so the time is right.

“I will always be grateful for Essendon’s support of both myself and my family since I arrived at the club from the other side of the world at the end of 2014.

“I will miss my teammates and coaches and I want to thank the Bomber fans for their support across the journey too. I will always wish the boys well and hope they see success in the not too distant future.”

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'It's difficult to say goodbye': McKenna's parting words

Conor McKenna opens up after announcing his AFL retirement, effective immediately.

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General manager of football Dan Richardson thanked McKenna for his services to the club over the past six seasons.

“We understand Conor’s decision to return home to be with his family and while we are disappointed to lose a player of his calibre from our list, he departs the club with our support to return to his homeland,” Richardson said.

“In recent years, we’ve had very open and honest conversations with Conor, and his desire to return back home to Ireland has been no secret.

“It has been a very trying year for Conor personally, too, but ultimately we accept that the pull to return home was too strong. We will continue to provide our full support to Conor as he embarks on the next phase of his life.

“We thank Conor for his contribution to the club and wish both he and his family all the very best for their future endeavours.”

Conor McKenna celebrates his first AFL win in round 23, 2015. (Photo: AFL Photos)

McKenna was recruited by Essendon in late 2014 as a category B rookie from County Tyrone, Ireland. He went on to make his debut against Richmond in round 22, 2015 at the MCG, kicking a goal with his first kick in the AFL.

He was named in the AFLPA’s 22Under22 side in 2018 and placed fourth overall in the club’s Crichton Medal in 2019, behind Zach Merrett, Dylan Shiel and Adam Saad.

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Conor McKenna celebrates a win in 2019 with fellow dashing backman Adam Saad. (Photo: AFL Photos)