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Meyler: 'Being a good person is as important as being a good footballer'

Tyrone’s All-Ireland winning hero is determined not to let the success change him.

Conor Meyler, PwC GAA/GPA Player of the Month for September.
Conor Meyler, PwC GAA/GPA Player of the Month for September.

IT GOES WITHOUT saying that the 2018 and 2021 All-Ireland finals were vastly different experiences for Conor Meyler. 

Aside from Tyrone coming out on the right side of the result this time around, Meyler incredibly battled his way back from a broken tibia in the space of four weeks to start the decider three years ago. 

He trained once before the final. And his task that afternoon? Man-marking Brian Fenton at midfield. 

“I obviously couldn’t enjoy the build-up,” recalls the PwC GAA/GPA Player of the Month for September. “I complete shut myself off from the rest of the world. 

“I was just so focused on getting back. I’m quite intense or driven when it comes to things like that, I don’t want to leave any stone unturned. I was sleeping in an oxygen tent.

“I don’t know if any of these things actually helped or worked, but I did come back from a broken leg in four weeks and played midfield in an All-Ireland final. But you could tell that I hadn’t trained. I had one training session before the final.

“It was probably my own ball skills and that that let me down, whereas having time to prepare and enjoy it this time was a big thing.”

This time around, Meyler told himself he was going to enjoy this experience. So as the Tyrone bus was driving into Croke Park, he watched the supporters from his seat. He waved back at a few he recognised. 

“You’re wasting nervous energy by getting too upright,” he explains. “So I relaxed and enjoyed the whole thing. 

“I would have deleted all my social media about a week out. I had the right company of family and friends, trying not to chat about football either.”

Taking a more laid back approach has been a feature of Meyler’s season. At times in the past over-preparing physically and mentally affected his game. He felt it even led to him getting injured on occasions. 

“I thought more was more. I thought you had to train every day or twice a day. I’ve just probably learned how my body works now. I still train hard, really hard and still train quite often but I’m probably learning what works for me.

conor-meyler Tyrone's Conor Meyler. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“This year I probably had the balance right. Touch wood I haven’t had any serious injuries in the last few years. The injuries I had, hamstrings and the like, back in 2016 and 2017, were just from doing too much, thinking I could keep going and going.

“It broke me in a sense because then when I didn’t have football, when I was injured, your sense of identity was badly hit and that’s why now I’m just more rounded and I realise that football is just one part of my life.

“I have other things outside of it that are good and going well. I think when everything outside of football is going well, then it definitely helps. Being a good person is as important as being a good footballer.

“Having all those things in order means you can go out and relax and enjoy yourself. As you know, whatever the result is I can deal with it.”

His objective for 2021 was to play without fear. He incorporated things like meditation and breathing work into his routine. It all helped him deliver a huge performance on All-Ireland final day, launching himself firmly into Footballer of the Year contention. 

“Genuinely, I was smiling and laughing at times,” he says of his emotions during the final. “I was enjoying myself, believe it or not. It sounds a wee bit odd but I just found that by relaxing this year, it definitely helped my game. 

“Sometimes I get too hyped up and too tense and underperform then. You’re thinking too much whereas it’s just trying to go out and a mindset of ‘don’t think, just play and see what happens’.

“Inevitably, you’re marking some of the best players in Ireland so they’re going to get the ball, and they’re going to possibly score. That happens and it’s just a case of getting on with it.  

“I really enjoyed the actual game as well. A lot of it you’re nearly in that zone, or close to it, where things are just happening, you’re not thinking about it. So it will be good to watch the game back in detail and to see what it was like.”

Meyler feels the whole team benefited from the experience of facing Dublin in 2018.

“I think we’re a lot more mature now. At the time we probably got caught up in the hype and definitely weren’t ready for it. Lessons we learned then were invaluable as most of that team are still playing.

“We can hype it up too much and read into it. I think in 2018, we definitely read into the hype. 

“When I look back we definitely weren’t ready to win the final in terms of our progression as a team. But looking at how matter we are now, I think we’re in a lot a better place.” 

conor-meyler-celebrates-after-the-game Conor Meyler celebrates after the All-Ireland final. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The man whose cross field ball created Cathal McShane’s goal against Mayo was a late developer.

He frequently payed on the B teams of his club St Enda’s Omagh at underage level as his father Seanie managed the A teams. He didn’t play county minor but  Tyrone SFC victories in 2014 and 2017 with his club hastened his development. 

He was an All-Ireland U21 winner in 2015 and lifted the Sigerson Cup in 2016. However, winning the Sam Maguire puts him on a different pedestal.

“It’s funny. I still see myself as the same person, just Conor Meyler, but people maybe see me differently now, as Conor Meyler, All-Ireland winner, which is strange and is probably going to take a while to get used to.

He adds, “It’s funny how perceptions change. There are games where I would have thought I’d played very well in the past but people don’t recognise it. It’s funny how it all works out.”

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Meyler is determined not to let the success go to his head.

“Even game on game, I was just making sure that I wasn’t getting ahead of myself either. Literally just being myself. I did a lot of work this year on just being myself and being authentic. 

“I can’t imagine I’ll get too ahead of myself. I’m finding all the media duties and stuff a wee bit strange. Lads looking to chat to you. It’s all a bit surreal, everything that comes with the All-Ireland. 

“I enjoy my own company at the best of times so I will enjoy some quiet time later in the week and then let it all sink in.”

He’s a nailed on All-Star and may well be crowned Footballer of the Year, but Meyler finds it “all a bit surreal.”

“If I think of individual awards, I think of boys like Mattie (Donnelly) and Peter (Harte), maybe. Then when you hear people talking about All-Stars, I’m like, ‘I’m not in that bracket. That’s your David Cliffords and your Brian Fentons’. For me, it’s about sweat and courage – that’s what I base my game on.”

And the highlight of all the celebrations of the past week?

“The final whistle stands out to me, and just looking around. That was what I dreamt of, from ’05, being at the final with my Dad. Me and Peter Harte sitting in front of the hill, with his wee baby girl. 

“I remember being very conscious to just soak in all the moments. I was conscious of doing that before the game of that as well. So that was a really nice one, seeing the lads going around the pitch and getting one-to-one time chatting to them. 

“The last few days, when we were out on the beer Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, just pulling myself aside to have wee chats with fellas. 

“I thought that was important too, to not get too carried away and find time to sit and reflect with close friends. 

“As well as being with family immediately after. After you win a final everybody wants to see you and chat to you but they were the ones who were there all year. 

“They were at all the games and when things aren’t going well they’re there for you, when you’re doing injury work or rehab in the house. Hugging my mum and Dad was a special moment too.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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