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Like father, like son: Getting to the top of my game to skipper Ireland

Read an exclusive extract from Meyler: A Family Memoir, the new book from David and John Meyler.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Updated Oct 9th 2021, 12:17 PM

‘Meyler: A Family Memoir’ — written with The42 GAA Editor, Fintan O’Toole – is the story of a father and son and their lives in elite sport.

It covers the biggest days in Croke Park to nights at Wembley and the Aviva Stadium and their journey to getting to sport’s brightest stages.

In this extract, John and David Meyler remember some important milestones with the Boys in Green. 

AFTER THE FINAL whistle sounded at the Cardiff City Stadium in October 2017, one of the first people over to congratulate me was Seamus Coleman.

I had captained Ireland to beat Wales 1-0 and keep our World Cup qualifying hopes alive. The greatest night of my football life.

The importance of it was rooted in my personal long-term journey, but also my short-term one, recovering from the double knee surgery six months previously. I was fortunate my injury hadn’t kept me out for long, mindful of the struggles of others. In March we drew 0-0 with Wales in Dublin – the game was overshadowed by Seamus breaking his leg.

Captaining my country in those 2017 qualifiers is my fondest football memory but that only happened because Seamus got injured. After the final whistle, my main thought was for his well-being.

I visited him the next day in a Dublin hospital and after talking to him, I didn’t worry about his ability to recover. With his strength of character, I was certain he would be back.

It must have been frustrating for Seamus to watch that Wales game but his attitude after, in going around to everyone, summed him up. It was a measure of the man. Reaching the play-offs brought us one step closer to the World Cup finals and I was desperate to qualify for Russia so that Seamus could play there.

david-meyler Captaining Ireland against Moldova. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THE PENNANT NEXT to my jersey was the giveaway. I arrived into the dressing-room 90 minutes before kick-off against Moldova, on a Friday night in October 2017. The Irish kit lads had all our gear laid out as usual. When I saw the extra item next to mine, the realisation hit me. I’m captain tonight.

Jon Walters had been deputising for Seamus, but he was out injured. It was a stroke of genius not to let me know in advance. Instead, I had no time to become distracted about being Irish captain for a World Cup qualifier. Martin was good at that, in keeping everyone focused on the game. His tactic of delaying team announcements was criticised but it gave everybody a chance to stake a claim to start and helped keep players switched on.

I’d got back into the Ireland team in September against Serbia. After drawing with Georgia, the midfield was changed with myself and Wes coming in. It was a game where the midfield area became a proper scrap. Nemanja Matić was a big powerful opponent but there is a mutual respect from that type of physical confrontation.

We lost 1-0, Aleksandar Kolarov scored a bullet. So in October we were very focused when facing Moldova. I was really glad for Daryl Murphy, he was clinical in scoring his two goals. We were there to win and once it was finished, all eyes turned to Wales.

In Cardiff, myself and James McClean sandwiched Joe Allen in a challenge for the ball. It reflected our mentality – we had to win and would have run through him to do so. Joe was a brilliant link-man for Wales. But he had to go off; they were already without Gareth Bale, and then Aaron Ramsey had to drop deeper.

david-meyler-and-james-mcclean-tackle-joe-allen David Meyler and James McClean sandwich Wales midfielder Joe Allen. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Their challenge was weakened.

The atmosphere in the stadium that night was highly-charged with emotion. Wearing the armband sharpened my focus, but you couldn’t help be taken in by the national anthems.
The Welsh one was seriously impressive. In the team huddle before, I kept reiterating that we would not lose the game. The winning goal was about Jeff Hendrick’s control. No matter how many times I’ve watched it back, I’m still not sure how he didn’t let the ball slip out of play.

When he put in the cross, James McClean met it brilliantly with his right foot. Near the end I saw my name in lights as the ball bounced, just me against Wayne Hennessey racing from the Wales goal. If I win it, I’ve got a tap in to an empty net in front of the Irish fans. But I’d nothing left in the tank, lunged in too late on Hennessey and got a yellow card. Martin O’Neill went mad at me privately after because I got suspended for the play-off first-leg.

Source: FAI TV/YouTube

After the game, I went back to Hull and came back down to earth, getting sent-off against Norwich. From the best feeling in the world to a reminder about the day job. But the Monday night memories of Cardiff will never fade.

***

roy-keane-and-martin-oneill Ireland boss Martin O'Neill with assistant Roy Keane before the playoff with Denmark in Dublin. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

TUESDAY NOVEMBER 14, 2017. The Aviva Stadium is packed and full of anticipation.

Three days before, we drew 0-0 with Denmark. I watch on in Copenhagen as I was suspended but the lads put in a brilliant resolute performance. For the game in Dublin, I get back in the starting team and I’m captain. A place in the World Cup within our grasp. And then at half-time, I’m done! Martin calls out the changes. Myself and Harry Arter are off.

Aiden and Wes in. We’re losing 2-1 after a perfect start with Shane Duffy’s goal. I wished the lads around me well, got changed and back out to the stand to watch the second half.

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Denmark battered us 5-1. Christian Eriksen got a hat-trick, destroying our dreams of going to Russia. Martin got it wrong at half-time. If you want to take me off, that’s fine. Same with Harry. But don’t take off your two holding midfielders. Get Wes or Aiden on for more creativity and then pin a player on Eriksen for the rest of the game. Instead, there was no protection for the defence and Eriksen has a field day.

My suggestion is different but I don’t have Martin’s experience. When he left Ireland, we chatted and went back over the years. He didn’t apologise for that half-time decision but he did acknowledge that change could have been better. We needed to hang in there at the start of the second-half. Then throw the kitchen sink at it late on, if we were still losing 2-1. Think about the crowd roaring us on, willing the ball to go into the Danish net. In September 2019 I was on radio co-commentary for Off The Ball as Ireland chased Switzerland.

David McGoldrick equalised and that night I felt the energy in the stands pushing the team on. Denmark could have been put under pressure but they didn’t need to worry as the goals were flying in. They started planning for Russia early.

seamus-coleman-and-david-meyler Brothers in arms: David and Seamus Coleman. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Watching the second-half was devastating. I wanted to get to the World Cup, not just for myself, but to give Seamus the chance to lead Ireland out. I was conscious I was a stand-in captain and always pointed out he was our leader. After what he’d been through with his leg break and people doubting him, imagine if he could have come back to that? I felt powerless as that hope slipped away.

How long did it take me to come to terms with that night? I’m still not sure I have. The hurt lingers and I don’t know will it ever completely go away. The end of my dream of playing at the World Cup. We went up to the players’ lounge in the stadium after. All my family were there. Cally had flown over, it was the first Ireland game she was at. Dad had been joking that she was never coming again after that result.

He’d warned her that my mood wouldn’t be great but she knew that already. All my buddies who I grew up with were at the game; they were going out in Dublin, I said we’d go meet them. Then Cally told me to go out and blow off some steam; she’d have an early night and head back to the hotel. It was really thoughtful of her. I went out with the lads, drinking around Dublin.

john-meyler-celebrates-with-his-son-david John and David Meyler after a victory for the Cork hurlers. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

That group had been there for magical moments in my career but they also shared in the disappointments. They were gutted that we lost but not as invested as I was. ‘Ah look Dave, get over it… will ya?’ ‘Do you want a pint or what?’ That sort of talk pulls you back to reality. My last memory of the night is of the lads… one of them talking about his little boy growing up, and showing me photos. It’s a few hours after the biggest sporting heartbreak I’ve suffered. The pain of the loss and my performance is still raw, and I’m listening to how a toddler is growing. And in a way it’s nice, it gives me some perspective. Life rolls on.

‘Meyler: A family Memoir’ is published by Hero Book and is available in book stores nationwide and online

9781910827369

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