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Independent.ie

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Suckler farmer and Westmeath GAA star closes the book on ag column

John Heslin celebrates after Westmeath's victory over Kildare in last year's Leinster football championship semi-final. John recently took up a research position with Tegasc at Grange in Co Meath. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
John Heslin celebrates after Westmeath's victory over Kildare in last year's Leinster football championship semi-final. John recently took up a research position with Tegasc at Grange in Co Meath. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Claire Mc Cormack

Claire Mc Cormack

"The ball, the books, the biro, the career - I'm afraid something has to give here".

This thought ran through Westmeath senior inter county football star John Heslin's mind when he was recently offered a research position with the Derrypatrick Herd at Teagasc.

Unfortunately for his loyal heartland readers, the St Loman's clubman decided to say goodbye to his popular weekly agricultural column in the Westmeath Examiner which he has been writing for the last two years.

However, he says the experience of being a voice for the local farming community, particularly through some difficult years, is something he will always treasure.

"It's all about getting as much experience as you can and that's why I wanted to write. But getting words on a page isn't always easy," he said.

"It's was really enjoyable. Fellas with no interest in farming would come up and talk to me about it. It opened their eyes to what farming life really entails," said the suckler farmer and PhD student.

After 104 columns, John, who scored 1-9 during last Sunday's O'Byrne Cup clash against Maynooth University at Páirc Chiaráin in Athlone, is glad to have another feather in his cap.

"Juggling the column with the PhD, football and the farm at home was tough at times but my family were a brilliant support."

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"My father, Peter, was always with me when the stories were coming together. Although he often came in on the back end of a story for a bit of slagging," he laughed.

"We'd often be in the mart and we'd be getting a slagging but I loved the feedback, it kept it interesting. I'm very grateful to the paper for the opportunity."

His sisters Katie and Bridgie also weighed in. "They'd read every story before sending it in. They'd have no problem telling me I need more humour, that it's a bit droll," he jests.

John, whose PhD is on beef heifer puberty and pregnancy rates, is in his second week on the job at the research centre in Grange.

"It's going well. Everyone has been very welcoming. I'm managing things and we've some research projects coming through," he said, well aware of the challenge ahead once the Leinster Senior Football Championship revs up.

"It will be a juggling task but I'll make use of every hour. I've a good watch and a good journal to keep me on my toes."

"At the end of the day GAA is a hobby, your professional career is more important. While I'm honoured to play, I'll make the most of it all while I can. The time challenges I face are only minor compared to challenges experienced by farmers, particularly on suckler farms, and that helps keep me focused on the jobs at hand."

Macra

Sunday morning alarm clocks are never easy to set - especially when faced with icy temperatures and a brisk sea breeze.

Nevertheless, 30 Dublin Macra members  and friends, turned up in hats, scarves, gloves, and some sunglasses, to walk the rocky coastline from Bray to Greystones last weekend.

After a few quick shots of espresso the team embarked on the popular 7km trek filled with breathtaking views overlooking the Irish sea.  Not only was it a great opportunity for members to catch up after a relaxing Christmas break, but recent bids for the up-coming 36th Macra Na Feirme presidential position set tongues wagging.

After attending the ‘Capers’ semi-finals in Kells on Saturday night, presidential candidate James Healy, from Co Cork, popped on his walking boots to join his Leinster counterparts on their rendezvous.

Meanwhile,  fellow presidential candidate, Odile Evans, from Co Wexford, who also attended the ‘Capers’ semis, welcomed the team as they arrived at The Burnaby for some well-earned grub. Both candidates will hit the road over the next few months as the campaign to replace current leader Seán Finan heats up.

Email: cmccormack@independent.ie

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