Conor McKenna brushes of Jack Crisp during Essendon's R23 clash with Collingwood last year. Picture: AFL Photos

CONOR McKenna could return to Tullamarine as soon as next week with Essendon confident the dashing defender can play round one without a pre-season hitout.

McKenna has been home in Ireland for more than a fortnight but has continued to maintain his fitness as he battles homesickness.

The 23-year-old will miss the Bombers' Marsh Community Series clash against West Coast on Thursday but remains in the frame to play in the season opener against Fremantle on March 21.

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"We've been in constant contact with Conor over the period of time he's been away and we hope he is enjoying himself and relaxing," Bombers assistant Mark Harvey said. 

"We'd like to think he comes back pretty soon, and we can have him available for selection. 

"It's looking promising, our support staff have done an enormous job with him.

"I'd like to think maybe early next week (he returns)." 


McKenna, who has been floated as a possible forward option, could even face the Dockers regardless of whether he plays in the second pre-season match against Geelong on March 9.

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"He's done the majority of the pre-season and he's still training over there," he said. 

"Conor is a guy who comes up really quick … his endurance is around our top 10 no matter what. 

"Pending when he does come back, he will be available for round one."

The Bombers will travel a squad of 26 to tackle the Eagles, with defender Michael Hurley to play 70-80 per cent of game time after off-season shoulder surgery.

Midfielders David Zaharakis and Zach Merrett will also continue their tune-up for round one after playing a half in last week's scratch match against Melbourne in Casey.

Devon Smith will also play his first match since knee surgery ended his 2019 campaign after round nine.

Meanwhile, captain Dyson Heppell (foot) barely raised a sweat at training on Tuesday, completing stationary handball drills before leaving the track.  

Dyson Heppell's foot injury saw him sidelined for Essendon's pre-season. Picture: AFL Photos

Joe Daniher (groin) enjoyed one of his biggest running sessions since surgery last year, but remains a long way from returning to full training.

Recruit Tom Cutler trained away from the main group before joining a rehab group that included Cale Hooker (hip) and Tom Bellchambers (knee). 

James Stewart (groin) and Mitch Hibberd (knee) took part in main training for the early stages of the 100-minute session before joining the rehab group.