SHAUN McKernan is used to being delivered bad news. For most of the marking forward and pinch-hitting ruckman's career, the 27-year-old has been searching, unsuccessfully, for a permanent position at AFL level.

In his 10 seasons in the system, McKernan has managed 10 or more games just once – in 2011 when he played 16 games for Adelaide. Now into his fourth season at Essendon, McKernan has played 20 games for the Bombers.

He has been on one-year contracts for all of his time at Essendon, and a couple of years before that at the Crows, and three of his seasons at the Bombers have seen him start on the rookie list. Every game McKernan has played has been hard-earned. 

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It's why he maintained the right attitude at the start of this year, when his strong VFL form wasn't rewarded with senior selection until round eight against Carlton and coach John Worsfold would have to let McKernan know he had missed out. 

"Towards the end of that six-week block I'd walk into his office and he'd sort of have a laugh or smile on his face because he knew he had to tell me the same thing as the week before. We'd have a joke about it, because there was nothing else I could really do. I had to keep playing well and doing what I was doing," he told

"He kept saying to me 'I wish I had something else for you, but keep doing what you're doing and when an opportunity comes you have to be ready to take it'. I had to be in the right mindset when the opportunity was there so I couldn't let not getting picked drag me down."

The opportunity finally arose, when Joe Daniher was ruled out for at least a month with osteitis pubis. McKernan's turn came, and he started with two goals and eight marks against Carlton and backed it up with a career-best four goals in last week's win over Geelong.

McKernan booted three in the first term and finished with 16 disposals. He could have had a couple more goals to his name as well after booting four behinds, but it was a dominant display close to goal. He starred for Essendon late in 2015 as a ruckman but says last week was his best game for the club as a forward.

"I don't want to just base my game around goals and kicks – I know there's other things in my game that I have to do for the team like competing long down the line and bringing the ball to ground," he said. "That's what I've been basing my game on."

McKernan doesn't know how Essendon's forward set-up could work once Daniher does return – unlikely to be before Essendon's round 13 bye – and isn't getting stressed thinking about it.

"I can't start looking into the future because that's when you start playing mind games with yourself," he said.

A change in the rookie rules for this year, which essentially allowed rookies to be elevated at any stage of the season without waiting for another player to be placed on the injury list, meant McKernan headed into 2018 with more hope of breaking into Essendon's line-up.

A chat about his goals and aims for the year with older brother Corey, who played 237 games for the Kangaroos and Carlton, including North's 1996 and '99 premierships, also helped.

"He's given me tips every now and then, but we sat down in pre-season and worked out a few things and even before I came into the AFL side he'd always ask me how I'm going," McKernan said.

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"The past two weeks he's been good with his feedback. It's pretty handy to have someone like that as your brother but he understands the game pretty well and can give me good help."

McKernan, as he has become familiar with, comes out of contract at the end of this year. This time, he's not worrying about what will happen. 

"It's something you try not to think about and this year I've been better about not thinking about the future and trying to work out the scenario of what could happen or what might happen,” he said.

"This year I've been better at keeping it simple and not jumping ahead to the future."