Westmeath and Laois are two football counties that are getting back to their feet slowly after a few years on their knees.
The pair slid a long way back from the golden period at the start of the Millennium when they were both Leinster champions, Laois in 2003 and Westmeath 12 months later.
They bounced around the divisions after that, never truly threatening to win another provincial title. Rock bottom, literally, came for the Lake County when consecutive relegations across three seasons led them to Division 4 in 2017.
Laois parachuted downwards with back-to-back relegations taking them into the basement for 2018. For both counties it was clear that it was time for a rethink.
Since then they have moved very much in the right direction, neither of them hanging around in Division 4 any longer than they had to.
Westmeath bounced straight back up, spending an extra season in Division 3 as they waited for Laois, expertly managed by Kerry-native John Sugure, to win promotion at the first time of asking and join them in the third tier.
The pair won promotion together from Division 3, the Lake County taking the title with a win at Croke Park, so Sunday’s Leinster Senior Football Championship quarter-final meeting will be their third this year.
"We played Laois twice in the league; in the group stage and the Division 3 final. It'll be another interesting challenge," noted Westmeath manager Jack Cooney.
"We played Laois last year in the first round in Tullamore in the same venue. Laois got the upper hand that day and went on to have a good season. They've had back-to-back promotions so it's going to be a very, very interesting tie."
Westmeath have been arguably the form team in the country this year, losing only once across 13 games since the start of 2019.
They came through the O’Byrne Cup unbeaten and even knocked Dublin off their perch with a five-point win in the decider at Parnell Park.
The only game they lost in the league was to promotion rivals Down and even then, that was only by a point away in Newry.
"Promotion out of Division 3 was one of our main aims at the start of the year," said Cooney.
"We achieved that and the lads got a good bounce out of it. They'll bring that confidence into the Championship. Hopefully we get a run of a few games and have an extended summer.
"One of our main objectives was to progress. If you want to progress, your expectation level is going to increase. One goes with the other."
The odd thing is, that even when these counties were going through their worst times, they were still able to make progress in Leinster. Westmeath made consecutive finals in ’15 and ’16 and Laois got there last year from Division 4, though each game ended with a predictable hammering from Dublin.
This year they are on the ‘good’ side of the Leinster draw – in other words on the opposide side to the Dubs. A win this weekend in Tullamore would see them up against Meath or Carlow in the semi-final.
Those glory days of the early 2000s are receding into the rearview mirror now, but there are links on both sides in their current set-ups.
Ross Munnelly made his inter-county debut under Mick O’Dwyer in 2003 and won a Delaney Cup at the first time of asking. He will play some part at O'Connor Park.
A year later Paidí Ó Sé inspired Westmeath to their first, and so far only, Leinster title, beating Laois after a replay in the final.
One of his selectors that day was Cooney, who is in charge now.
Additional reporting by Eamon Horan
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