CONOR McKenna could return to Essendon as soon as next week with the Bombers confident the Irish defender could yet line up against Fremantle in round one of the AFL.
McKenna flew back to Belfast this month after a bout of homesickness but has maintained his fitness levels while away and is expected to hit the ground running on his return to Melbourne.
“We’ve been in constant contact with Conor over the period of time that he’s been away and I hope that he’s been enjoying himself and relaxing,” Bombers assistant coach Mark Harvey said.
“We’d like to think that he comes back pretty soon and that we can have him available for selection (in round one) as well.
“It’s looking promising and our support staff have done an enormous job with him.”
Pressed on McKenna’s specific return date, Harvey said: “I’d like to think early next week.”
Harvey said the rebounding defender would have no trouble slotting straight into the team to face the Dockers at Marvel Stadium on March 21 despite not having a full pre-season match under his belt.
“He’s done the majority of pre-season and he’s still training over there (in Ireland),” Harvey said.
“Conor’s a guy that comes up really quick. He’s got good speed and agility, and his endurance is around our top 10 no matter what.
“So, I would say that Conor, pending when he does come back, that he’ll be available for round one.”
Essendon granted McKenna leave to miss a match last year so he could attend his brother’s wedding in Ireland.
Harvey said the club would consider accommodating the player with more time off this season to manage his homesickness.
“That’s a possibility,” Harvey said.
“Last year he went home for a wedding during the season, those sorts of things might be discussed moving forward.”
© AAP 2020