ESSENDON has granted Conor McKenna his wish.
The Bombers will unleash the Irish speed demon as a forward during practice matches, with the greater aim of striking a better balance between attack and defence.
McKenna began preparing for the switch in recent weeks and he's been among the goals in internal match simulation.
The change is set to also impact on Orazio Fantasia and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, who may fill McKenna's void down back when he ventures forward.
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McKenna told AFL.com.au in August last year of his desire to return to his forward roots, after playing in attack in Gaelic football and his early AFL days.
Essendon's outgoing coach, John Worsfold, considered using him in the forward half when he arrived at Tullamarine ahead of the 2016 season but quickly aborted that plan.
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McKenna's lack of experience – he had just one season of football under his belt then – and knowledge of the game resulted in the Bombers instead sending him down back.
He's since become one of Essendon's, and even the AFL's, most devastating weapons in defence, thanks to his combination of breakneck speed and dare.
McKenna's importance at the Bombers and elevated performance were highlighted in him placing fourth in the club's best and fairest award last year.
"He looks pretty good (as a forward), because he's explosive, he can turn and go both sides of his body, and he's a little bit unpredictable for us, which sometimes makes it challenging for the opposition," Worsfold told AFL.com.au.
"When I first got to the club, we were looking at him forward and he was struggling to read the game and get involved, so we put him back and we saw him develop a lot more quickly.
"So where he's at now, potentially he'll know the game well enough – the speed of the game – to impact as a forward, but it also gives us great flexibility.
"If he's playing back and for whatever reason things aren't working well, in terms of the way the team's going, we can flip a McDonald-Tipungwuti and a McKenna, or a Fantasia to half-back and put Conor forward, and just see what it brings."
Either way, McKenna's starting position for round one will be determined in the next five or six weeks and there is still every chance he remains in his usual half-back slot.
Blake Caracella has taken charge of the team's offence after crossing from Richmond as Essendon tries to improve on last season's 77 points per game, which ranked 13th.
Worsfold said there would be some subtle changes in the way the Bombers moved the Sherrin, including from stoppages and in general play.
"It will be about having the ability to work out whether we need to go fast, or whether we need to hold a little bit and let things set up ahead of the ball," he said.
"There's been a lot of education pre-Christmas and through January, then probably in the last week or so, (Caracella)'s saying players are starting to get it."
The potential use of Fantasia and McDonald-Tipungwuti in defence also appears to fit into this overall thinking.
"(Fantasia) brings speed but sees the game totally differently to Conor – potentially more composure and reading different circumstances – but who knows until you put him there regularly and have a look at it," Worsfold said.
"It's the same with (McDonald-Tipungwuti) … he's more likely to stop dead and look around and use the ball, as opposed to Conor, who once he gets momentum will probably just keep going."
McDonald-Tipungwuti is dealing with a calf injury and won't take part in Essendon's practice match against Melbourne on February 21 but could face West Coast in the Marsh Community Series on February 27.