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Westmeath star John Heslin pictured at the Leinster Senior Football Championship launch.

Westmeath star John Heslin pictured at the Leinster Senior Football Championship launch.

John Heslin hopes Westmeath can develop further

By Cian O'Connell

The 2015 and 2016 Leinster Championship journeys offered Westmeath significant hope. Reaching two provincial deciders in a row was encouraging following summer wins over Louth, Wexford, Meath (2015), Offaly and Kildare (2016).

During those years Westmeath suffered Allianz Football League relegations so talisman John Heslin was reasonably satisfied with how the midlanders fared this spring in Division Three.

“I love playing in the League with games week in, week out or every second week,” Heslin admits. “Each game is very exciting and each game has a huge bearing on how the League is going to go for you. They all mean something.

“You target your first one or two games to get a good result, if you lost in one of those games it is really an uphill battle then.

“We lost to Armagh, that was at home, that was really a sucker punch. We would have been targeting to win our home games in order to stay up first of all and getting an away win would set you up for promotion.  We still had a chance after that to get promoted, but we went down to Longford and were beaten.”

Positives were still gleaned, though, in Colin Kelly’s first few months in charge according to the gifted St Loman’s clubman. “Unfortunately we didn't get promoted, we were disappointed, but overall when you take a step back to assess our last say five to eight years you'd have to say it was a positive League campaign in the sense that it was the first year for a while that we haven't been promoted or relegated,” Heslin says.

“At least we stayed in the Division for once in a while and maybe going from Division Four to Two in two consecutive years might have been a step too far as we would have shown previously when we went back down to Division Four from Division One. Overall it was a positive enough campaign, we came through without any serious injuries as such and we got to try out a few new lads.

“A new manager, he has brought in a few new players, we beat Derry up in Derry, that would have been a huge thing for us to take out of the League. We had some good results.”

Ultimately Heslin wants Westmeath, who face Laois at Bord Na Mona O’Connor Park in a Leinster Quarter-Final on Saturday, to make a Championship impact with a place in the revamped All Ireland series the eventual target.

“There is probably 12 counties with an excellent chance of getting those eight positions, that is an argument somebody else could pick you up, but I'd say for Division Three teams like ourselves there is probably only one position in the Super 8s to get, if even,” Heslin adds.

“You are relying on a lot of things, first of all your own result and you are relying on the luck of the draw. We would love to get there, it is our target, it has been our target for the last number of years when we go into the qualifiers, it is to get back to Croke Park, to get to Croke Park.

“We haven't done so, but hopefully maybe this year we could get to a Quarter-Final. It would be a huge goal.”

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