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'I'm fortunate that I had a career I can be proud of sharing with the people I care most about'

David Meyler reflects on some defining moments from his journey in football.

ON A THURSDAY evening in May 2008, 18-year-old David Meyler was given an opportunity to make an impact on Cork City’s first-team.

Speculation over a transfer to England had already begun, so his presence in the City line-up to take on Rockmount made the Munster Senior Cup fixture significantly more intriguing than it would otherwise have been.

On the night, Meyler was involved in a fascinating midfield duel with a sibling of his main suitor. The combat they engaged in was both physical and verbal, and although his direct opponent was 15 years his senior, Meyler appeared to revel in the role of an up-and-coming prospect with a target on his back.

One of the spectators in attendance observed that Pat Keane appeared to be acting on his brother’s behalf by testing Meyler’s mettle with some robust challenges and a few choice words. If so, the report that was to be despatched back to England couldn’t have been anything but positive.

Two months after scoring in a penalty shootout that sent Cork City into the Munster Senior Cup final at Rockmount’s expense, Meyler was signed by Sunderland boss Roy Keane.

football-cobh-ramblers-v-sunderland-pre-season-friendly-ireland-0809-28708-david-meyler-sunderland-warms-up-mandatory-credit-action-images-lee-mills David Meyler pictured shortly after joining Sunderland in 2008. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Over the next decade, he graced considerably more salubrious stages. A Premier League debut arrived the following year, yet battles like the one at Rockmount Park were of incalculable value in preparing him for what lay ahead.

“I remember that game well,” Meyler says. “I tackled Pat at one stage and he said something to me. I think I responded with something about Roy to try and get under his skin.

“That Rockmount side had some very good players who were never going to go easy on a young player. It was an unbelievable learning experience to be playing senior football in a game like that. It was huge at that age.

“Chances like that to challenge yourself at such an early stage in your career are priceless. I knew I had the technical ability to play in a game like that, but it’s also about having the drive, the physique, the fitness and all the other qualities that are required.”

Meyler’s talent, by his own admission, was primarily responsible for getting him to England, but his attitude and work ethic kept him there for long enough to accumulate more than 100 Premier League appearances. In doing so, he defied some major injury setbacks along the way.

“I don’t mind saying that I was probably one of the best U18 players in the country when I was at Cork City. When I went over to Sunderland I was at the very bottom of the pack, so I had to really knuckle down in order to get ahead.”

Still only 32, Meyler is now two-and-a-half years into life as a former footballer. The damage accumulated by a series of knee issues forced him into retirement in 2019.

Grieving the loss of several more years of his playing career was every bit as challenging as he expected it would be. However, the ability to acknowledge and appreciate that football gave him so many cherished memories helped to ease the pain when it became severe.

There was his first Premier League goal, which helped Hull City beat a Liverpool team fronted by Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez. He scored against his boyhood club again a couple of years later at Anfield.

During his time at Hull, there were also goals against Manchester United and Manchester City, as well as an FA Cup final appearance at Wembley against Arsenal.

britain-football-soccer-manchester-united-v-hull-city-efl-cup-semi-final-first-leg-old-trafford-10117-manchester-uniteds-wayne-rooney-in-action-with-hull-citys-david-meyler-reuters-phil Meyler is challenged by Manchester United's Wayne Rooney while playing for Hull City in 2017. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

He went to Euro 2016 with his country, and then wore the captain’s armband the following year as they fashioned a memorable 1-0 victory over Wales in Cardiff. 

“When I retired,” he says, “it was very, very hard to accept it and take it at face value. My wife and my family wanted to know what I was going to do and it probably took me about two weeks before I could even get the words out.

“I obviously still watch a lot of football now and there are some good days, some bad days, because you’re looking at so many fellas who you played against and they’re still going. 

“Now I just look back with so many fond memories of the people I was lucky enough to share a changing room with and play with. You have to respect what you did instead of thinking about what you could have done if you were able to go on for a few more years.

“It’s something crazy like only one in a quarter-of-a-million get to play in the Premier League, so I know it was special to have done it so many times. There’s also the fact that our country has only qualified for six major tournaments and I was part of one of those squads.

“There are so many moments that I look back on with an enormous sense of pride, satisfaction and gratitude. My career finished early, but there’s an overall sense of feeling fortunate because of all those things that I was part of.”

A project that Meyler embarked on this year also helped him conduct a reasonable appraisal of his achievements. Written in conjunction with Fintan O’Toole of this parish, the ex-Ireland international tells his own story, in tandem with his father’s, in ‘Meyler: A Family Memoir’ which was published recently.

The book dissects two fascinating sporting careers, while illustrating the extent to which they were underpinned by the supporting role played by a tight-knit family.

“You always associate books with iconic figures – I read Roy Keane’s, Steven Gerrard’s, Richie McCaw’s; people who had iconic status in their sport, who you’d be fascinated by – so it’s not something I ever thought I’d be doing,” says Meyler, a father of two.

“When it was put to me about doing a book, you’re obviously wondering if there’d be an interest in your story. Then it was mentioned that my dad and I could do the book together. That felt like the right thing to do because I wanted my children to know my dad like I did.

john-meyler-celebrates-with-his-son-david John and David Meyler after Cork's 2018 Munster Senior Hurling Championship final win against Clare. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“We sit down at times with our families and we go over things, but now it’s on paper for life. It will always be there and, if they have kids of their own some day, it’s something that they can pass on to them too.”

As well as winning the Collingwood Cup during his time at UCC, John Meyler had a dalliance with the League of Ireland by lining out for Cork Alberts. However, his sporting life was ultimately shaped by club and inter-county success as both a player and manager.

The quality of his mentorship was also a determining factor in ensuring that his son – despite some early hiccups – was able to turn a pastime into a profession.

“In my early teen years I lost focus a bit and there was a time when my father became annoyed,” David Meyler recalls. “He was trying his best to help me because he knew I had the ability, but his view was that if I wasn’t going to apply myself in the right way, he wasn’t going to bend over backwards to support me.

“I remember him saying to me ‘you tell me when you’re ready’ at one stage. My dad wanted me to succeed, I wanted to succeed too, but when I was 14 or 15 I wasn’t willing to put in the work that he knew was required to get to the level where I wanted to be.

“It probably wasn’t until I was about 17 when I said to him ‘okay, I understand what you’re talking about now, I’m ready’, and he was able to encourage me to push on.

“When you’re talking about kids and sport, some parents can become pushy and it can be very tricky to find the balance. My dad was only interested in supporting me to push on as long as I was the one who wanted it. He opened the door for me, but he wasn’t going to push me through. That had to be down to me in the end.”

In the book, Meyler doesn’t shy away from taking ownership of the occasional errors of judgement that taught him some valuable lessons. He admits, for example, to acting “like an idiot at times” after he first moved to England.

“Money and fame made me get a bit ahead of myself,” he says, before scolding himself for his decision to treat himself to three expensive cars – two of which were quickly sold on following some disapproving feedback from his father.

Now working as a coach with the Ireland U17 and U18 teams, Meyler won’t hesitate to draw on his own experiences if they can help young players to avoid making similar mistakes.

david-meyler On coaching duty with the Ireland U17s. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

“You can give someone all the advice in the world, but whether they’re willing to listen and do something about it is down to them,” he says.

“A prime example is my decision to leave school in the January of my Leaving Cert year to sign professionally with Cork City. It worked out for me in the long run, and even though there was a lot going on for me with schoolwork and training, I should have stayed on and finished my education.

“To any young boys or girls in a similar situation, I always say finish your education. If you’re good enough, you’re good enough, and the club or the manager who’ll be making the decisions will find a way to make it work if they think a lot of you as a player.

“I was only five months away from finishing my education and ultimately I ended up signing for Sunderland just after that, so I had no regrets about it at that particular time. But I do regret not doing my Leaving Cert then.

“When I injured my knee at 20 I was told that I might have to retire. Thankfully it didn’t come to that, but if it had then I’d have been back at home without a Leaving Cert to rely on.

“At times people need to make the mistakes themselves – whatever those mistakes may be – in order to learn, but you have to try and use your own experiences if you feel it can help them along the way too.”

Meyler is unequivocal in his description of the 2018 World Cup qualifier away to Wales as “the greatest night” of his career. Having skippered his country to a significant win, he told the press that “it’s a huge thing for me and my family” before making his way to the stadium car park, where his father, mother Stella and sister Sarah were waiting patiently.

A passing Wales supporter, fuelled by alcohol and disappointment, attempted to interrupt with an uncomplimentary tirade, but nothing could have spoiled the family’s savouring of an achievement that they were all entitled to feel part of.

Meyler says: “I was very fortunate to have come from a sporting background. A lot of the English or Scottish lads I played with could never get over the amount of times my dad would come to games. It was perfectly normal to me to have him there because it’s something I was so used to.

“I had incredible support and I was blessed to have a father who was massively involved and who had such experience as a coach that I could benefit from. The backing of my mum and my sister has been massive too. They’ve never not been there to support and encourage me.

republic-of-ireland-team-group-shot-top-row-left-to-right-harry-arter-cyrus-christie-stephen-ward-shane-duffy-darren-randolph-daryl-murphy-and-ciaran-clark-bottom-row-left-to-right-james-mc Captaining Ireland to victory over Wales in October 2017. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

“Later on in my career, my wife [Cally] would be at every home game. My son [Brody] was too young but my daughter [Alanna] was able to go to some of the games.

“Even now if there’s football on, she’ll often ask ‘daddy, did you play in that stadium?’ or ‘did you play against these players?’ and that’s what it’s all about.

“My playing days might have ended earlier than I would have wanted, but I know I’m very fortunate that I had a career I can be proud of sharing with the people I care most about.”

Published by Hero Books, ‘Meyler: A Family Memoir’ is out now.

About the author:

Paul Dollery

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