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Dolan future in maroon unclear

THE inter-county future of Dessie Dolan remains shrouded in serious doubt as a new season dawns, but several more veterans have rejoined the Westmeath fold under new manager Brendan Hackett.

Among those who have recommitted for 2010 is Damien Healy, although the evergreen defender cautioned: "I'm trying to get fit to see can I do anything this year. I'm not sure how it will end up."

Healy will turn 34 next June but, presuming he can steer clear of injury, Westmeath fans would be hopeful that this natural athlete could still have a key role to play as the county embarks on an inevitable period of transition under Hackett.


Last year's annus horribilis -- comprising top-flight league relegation and twin championship calamities against Dublin and Meath -- appeared to mark the end of a glorious era for the one-time midland minnows. But the expected glut of departures has not fully materialised ahead of next Sunday's O'Byrne Cup opener at home to DCU (Cusack Park, 2.0).

True, 2009 captain John Keane announced his surprise retirement last September, citing persistent injury problems, while fellow full-back Kieran Gavin has opted out for the year as he plans to go travelling this summer. But Hackett hasn't given up hope that Gavin could yet be convinced to feature at some stage of the upcoming Division Two league campaign -- ironically he is set to play for his college, DCU, against Westmeath this weekend.

With the winter training ban now over, there is still no sign of Dessie Dolan, Derek Heavin or David O'Shaughnessy but several more 'veterans' of the 2004 Leinster breakthrough triumph have returned. They include former All Star 'keeper Gary Connaughton, defenders Michael Ennis and Donal O'Donoghue, along with forward Fergal Wilson.

Denis Glennon is also back on board whereas his Tyrrellspass clubmate, Martin Flanagan, is currently on a rehab programme.

Flanagan is several months older than Healy and it remains to be seen whether the mercurial midfielder/ forward can shake off his long-running injury problems, but selector Michael 'Spike' Fagan revealed: "He is keen to be involved ... and we are keen to have him."

There is less optimism locally about the comeback prospects of Dolan who, when asked about his New Year plans during a pre-Christmas radio interview, replied to the effect that he wanted to improve his golf handicap.

Dolan's future has been in question ever since his father, Dessie Snr, wasn't afforded an interview for the managerial vacancy prompted by Tomás ó Flatharta's departure. His extended Leinster club involvement with Garrycastle helped to stave off the inevitable questions ... but people are now wondering if Westmeath's most decorated forward has played his last game in maroon at the age of 30.

The 2004 All Star is currently out of the country on holidays and was not available for comment, while Hackett was today quoted as saying: "At this point, Dessie has not made himself available to us so he is not in our plans for the immediate future."

But his selector Fagan confirmed that the door remains open, adding: "He owes nothing to Westmeath. He has put in a lot of effort over the years, and sometimes you just have to take a break from things. But if he's interested, we would certainly love to have him on board."

Likewise, Dolan's Garrycastle colleague O'Shaughnessy is not currently involved while clubmate Cathal Mullin -- long-term goalkeeping understudy to Connaughton -- didn't express an interest in getting involved this year, according to Fagan.

Meanwhile, Healy admitted the decision to return early from his world travels on the eve of last year's championship was "not a good idea in hindsight".

The versatile defender was playing fitness catch-up when he appeared as a sub during their fraught extra-time win over Wicklow at the Leinster quarter-final stage.


He also came off the bench amid the 27-point annihilation inflicted by Dublin and tore his hamstring in the process, forcing him to miss their lame qualifier exit at home to Meath.

Healy then resumed his travels, returning home around the beginning of November.

"I think Brendan was already in at that stage. I didn't make the big meeting (attended by up to 70 prospective players last October) but, talking to a few guys, everybody was impressed with what he wanted to do," the Rochfortbridge native outlined.

Harking back to ó Flatharta's final campaign, Healy remarked: "I'm even surprised that people are going on about last year, how it was such a disaster.

"There are highs and lows in every season. Last year just nothing went right. Nothing could be done about that.

"Hopefully now, with new man- agement, new players, new impetus, we can get things going again.

"I'll try and get fit, up to a level where I can give something to the team, and see how it goes."