Westmeath's footballers have been dealt a big blow with the news that last year's captain John Heslin is to step away from inter-county football to focus on his college commitments.
New manager Jack Cooney, who replaces Colin Kelly in the role, has confirmed that Heslin has informed him that he is concentrating on studying.
“John hasn’t returned to the squad because he’s in the middle of completing his PHD,”Cooney told the Westmeath Independent.
“I can appreciate that it takes a massive amount of time and dedication to complete a PHD and nobody is going to put on any additional pressure on John given the circumstances."
The Lake County boss did add that "if things change for him, we will welcome him back.”
Cooney also confirmed that Ray Connellan will not rejoin the squad and is set to return to America. Connellan recently left AFL side St Kilda without making a competitive appearance but is set to return to Australia. He explained, "it's only natural that he wants to return to Australia to pursue his career."
In an interview with Balls.ie earlier this year, Connellan explained "I don’t want to come home having not played AFL" but went on to stress he did want to play Gaelic football at some point in the future.
I miss it. I’d love to come back and play again. I don’t know, sometimes on Facebook, you know that thing it shows you ‘on this day’? Man, there is times on that when a photo of a team or a GAA photo will pop up and I'd say 'Jesus, I'd love to be back doing that now.' I'd love to have a week at home play a game and come back over then.
It would definitely be something I'd like to do when I finish.
Cooney is the county's first native manager in 26 years. He is set to try and improve on the 2018 campaign which saw Westmeath eliminated in the first round of the qualifiers after an 11-point loss against Armagh.