Jack Cooney’s tenure as Westmeath senior football manager kicks off with an O’Byrne Cup clash away to Carlow this Sunday (2pm).
And while usually, Westmeath never have a full panel until the leagues commence in February, the Coralstown/Kinnegad clubman is preparing for 2019 in the knowledge that he may be without several key players – including marquee forward, John Heslin.
The St Loman’s, Mullingar forward, who captained the Lake County in 2018, is in the final year of completing an agricultural science PhD through Teagasc, and is concentrating solely on his studies at present.
“John hasn’t returned to the squad because his in the middle of completing his PhD. I can appreciate that he takes a massive amount of time and dedication to complete a PhD and nobody is going to put on any additional pressure given the circumstances,” Cooney said this week.
“I spoke with John on the phone and he explained that his focus is currently on his studies and completing his PhD, but if things change for him we will welcome him back.”
Cooney also looks set to be without the services of Athlone star and former Aussie Rules player Ray Connellan, who has decided to return to Australia and will play no part for the Lake County in 2019.
“I spoke with Ray about the prospects of returning to play football for Westmeath, but unfortunately he told me that his was planning to return to Australia,” Cooney added.
“Ray spent two years living in Melbourne and invested a huge amount of time and effort to the area. Of course it is disappointing from a manager’s perspective, but he is a young man with ambition and drive, and it’s only natural that he wants to return to Australia to pursue his career.”
Cooney continued, giving his thoughts on the new rules being introduced to competitive football:
“Over the last couple of weeks we have invited a number of players into the panel, and we’ll be using the two fixtures in December to see how these players perform in a competitive environment.
“A lot of our main players haven’t returned yet because they are on an extended break. In some cases these players have playing club championship right up to November, so it’s important that they get the break they deserve and return back to the squad fresh in the New Year.
“We also have to contend with the introduction of the experimental new rules. I’m a little unsure of the new rules to be honest. I think the sin bin is a good option, but I’m not so certain about the third handpass rule.
“I think we are putting a lot of extra pressure on officials to get it right, and the question of consistency will be also up for debate. We’ve adopted the new rules into our training matches, but I think next week’s game against Carlow will give us a real insight on how it will be implemented during a competitive fixture,” concluded the Westmeath boss.