Heslin: I would have regretted not chasing Oz dream
Last Saturday's Sigerson Cup win was exactly the kind of thing that John Heslin knew he could miss out on when as a teenager, he took up an offer from the Richmond Tigers to pursue a career in the AFL.
The lure of Melbourne and a professional life was too much not to at least give it a try. Yet he was back in Mullingar with the most of his two-year deal still to run and while there are things he would have done differently, there are no regrets.
The decision to return has since been vindicated. He has seen some big days, not least helping the county beat Meath for the first time in Championship history last summer.
Taking the leap was a risk, but it's a risk he's glad he took.
"Anyone I have spoken to. . . I spoke to Colin O'Riordan and a couple of lads. . . I just said you have to go," he said. "You'll never regret going but I would have regretted not going.
"I went over too early in the year. Usually an Irish player goes over in October, then gets a couple of weeks off for Christmas and goes back over.
"But I went out in July. I had a longer period when I was ineligible to play games and I was just training. That had its part to play.
"But that's hindsight. It's a phenomenal opportunity for any player to go over."
In the immediate aftermath of UCD's first independent.ie Sigerson title in 20 years, Heslin was pulled aside for interview. He was quick to praise the departed doyen of UCD GAA, Dave Billings.
"We didn't really talk about it as a team, that we were going to go out and do this for Dave or anything like that, but it was always of course on the back-burner," Heslin revealed.
"I was very close to Dave through my time in UCD. He helped me out with a lot of things.
"Not only was he the head of GAA but he was also a friend. I was offered the chance to go to Australia when I was in UCD, and I spoke to Dave on a number of occasions about what to do and what was his advice. When I was coming back then, he was delighted to hear I was coming back to UCD.
"He looked out for me and just helped me settle back in as well."
And what exactly was Billings' advice?
"I can't reveal the whole conversation we had but he didn't want me to go at the start," Heslin said. "But he put on his hat outside of UCD and he gave me a bit of life advice that only someone who has been through various things can give you.
"It was an insightful conversation and that's what people are there for, and the head of sport of UCD Brian Mullins too. They have experienced things.
"I was only 19 and it was a massive decision and they gave me the advice and said 'look give it a shot, you can always come home'."
The texts were still rolling in yesterday. Cork's Eamonn Ryan was on the phone to offer his congratulations along with several others.
However, there's little time to celebrate. Heslin is back in action with Westmeath, who have lost their opening two League matches.
They head to Tipperary this weekend and Heslin believes a win there will revive their push for promotion back to Division 2 having suffered successive relegations.
"We lost the first game to Kildare by three points and the second game to Sligo by a point so those games could have gone either way and you have to be careful not to be overly critical of yourself because you can lose confidence very quickly," said Heslin.
"I could be having this conversation with two wins on the board and looking forward to playing Tipperary but unfortunately that's not the way it has gone.
"There's still plenty of games that we can go on and win. It just puts us under a little bit more pressure if we are going to push for promotion to win the remaining games.
"We can't have any more hiccups from here on in."
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