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'We lost 2-0 and Roy had a pop off the players. I took a bit off him. But I was thinking: this is what I want'

David Meyler on being the son of an All-Ireland winner, life after football and signing for his hero.

David Meyler pictured with Roy Keane.
David Meyler pictured with Roy Keane.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Updated Mar 4th 2020, 12:19 PM

DAVID MEYLER GREW up the son of an All-Ireland winner.

His father John, a former dual player with Cork and ex-manager of the senior hurlers, was a crucial influence.

To make it as an Ireland international and Premier League footballer though, you need the help of several people.

Really, he had several footballing fathers. But his dad was especially pivotal.

“It 100% helped me,” he tells The42. “As now I’m a father of two, it’s finding a balance of how much you want your child to have it and how much your child wants it themselves. That’s the big thing.

“I always turned to my dad and was like: ‘I want to be a professional footballer. I want to play in England. I want to play for Ireland.’ He made sure I had everything available to me and steered me on the right path to do that. I wanted it more than he wanted it for me.

At times you can see parents trying to fulfill their dream through their child, which is wrong because the child might not want it as much and the child can then fall out of love with it, whereas my dad was never like that. There were days, because I wanted to get better, he would take me, practicing things, going over things, watching games back, talking about games, everything from my training to my matches, everything.

“So growing up, that was a massive thing and he helped me get better. I wouldn’t have been able to fulfill my potential or fulfill what I had without someone like him driving me on.

“It’s almost as if you want to outshine them. My dad won an All-Ireland with Cork in ’86, he won a lot with Finbarrs locally. As he keeps reminding me, my dad played with Ireland colleges.

“I wanted to go on and be successful. I’ll never forget the day my son was born. My dad was over in England. He said: ‘That’s it like.’ I said: ‘What do you mean?’ I was confused. He said: ‘My job is done now and it’s over to you.’ I looked at him. ‘I’ve given you the platform to do everything. Now, it’s your turn. I didn’t do half bad. Now you’ve got to try to beat me.’ It’s almost as if there’s been this competition that we want, which has always been healthy, but it’s driven us to success.”

john-meyler-dejected-in-the-final-minutes-of-the-game David's father John is former manager of the Cork hurlers. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

John was not the only one who had a big influence on a young David. His mother, Stella, was an international swimmer and pushed for him not move to England at a young age, despite receiving an offer to do so.

“My mother didn’t want me to go. She was right. I was too immature. I was too hyper. Too giddy in the classroom. I was just a hyperactive child, who couldn’t sit still and wouldn’t listen. If I’d gone to England at 15 or 16, I’d have been home three or four years later. I think that’s the truth and I can only be honest.

At 18, I was more mature. My dad was like: ‘This is it. This is all you’ve ever spoke about. Go and do it.’ I was more ready for it.”

Meyler’s mother didn’t get her way amid another dilemma though — around sixth year, he dropped out of school, foregoing the Leaving Cert, in order to sign professionally for Cork City.

However, the teenage midfielder had only got a handful of senior games under his belt before English football came calling again.

“I’ve heard different things. I believe Johnny Fallon Senior saw me playing a game, happened to do a bit of scouting, spoke to Roy Keane, Roy Keane then sent someone to look at me, something along those lines, and then I was invited over for a trial for Sunderland, I did okay. And then it was just coming to an agreement with Cork City of how much they had to pay for me. I’ve been told that by several different people, so I’d take value from that.”

Champ_cup_T9C5563 Meyler was attending an event in Dundrum Town Centre where fans had an opportunity to take selfies with the Champions League trophy.

Meyler had idolised Keane during his childhood. All of a sudden, the Manchester United legend had gone from being a near-mythical figure to his boss.

“It was surreal,” he recalls. “I’d grown up in Cork watching this fella play football, thinking: ‘I want to be like him.’ He’s pretty modest in the way he speaks about himself as a player, but he was exceptional in everything he did — his passing, his desire, his work rate, his effort. He could even score goals when he needed to, he was a complete midfielder.

“The chance to work with him, I felt he could improve me even if I could take a bit out of him, even from the time I was with Ireland, you’re still picking his brain. What can I get better at? He was very good to me and I owe him a lot for the majority of things I achieved in my career.”

And was the young Meyler somewhat intimidated by an iconic figure like Keane?

Intimidation and fear are different to people. One of the first times I met Roy, we had played in a reserve game against Gateshead. We lost 2-0 and Roy had a pop off the players. I took a bit off him. But I looked at him and I was thinking: this is what I want. He’s being honest with me. There’s no lying. He’s telling me what he expects of me now that I’m a Sunderland player. I relished it. 

“As I got older and worked under different managers from Steve Bruce to Martin O’Neill at times, you took a bit of a tongue lashing. But a lot of the time, you probably do deserve it — that’s what people forget. Certain players think they’re being picked on, but I always tried to prove them wrong. I looked them in the eye and said: ‘I’ll prove you wrong.’ So I loved it.

“It almost felt to me as if they cared. They wanted you to do well and this is what they were trying to make you do better. I never had a problem with it.

“Some people can’t handle it. Mind you, I experienced 15 years of my dad giving it to me before I had it off them. So I was well used to it.”

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david-meyler-after-the-game Meyler earned 26 caps for Ireland. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It’s less than a year since Meyler announced his retirement from football at the age of 30.

We meet at a packed Dundrum Town Centre. The former Hull and Reading player is at an event sponsored by Pepsi, where long lines of children and their parents are queuing to wait for a selfie with the Champions League trophy.

The Corkonian says the biggest challenge of life after football is adapting to the unconventional structure of his days. Whereas previously, he had a set routine that would rarely change — going to training at 9.30am every day and getting back home for 1.30pm, now his schedule is less predictable — three or four days of work followed by two or three days off and so on.

Not that he is taking it easy though — media work, regular trips to and from Dublin Airport, coaching with the Ireland U17s, the start of his A license and maintaining his YouTube channel are among Meyler’s current responsibilities.

I still do miss that buzz of the Saturday three o’clock game,” he adds. “As we do this [on a Saturday], you’re kind of thinking it’s now 12.50pm, we’d be meeting at the stadium, preparing for the game, so I suppose those small aspects I do miss. But I’ve made peace with it really.”

The ex-Ireland international enjoyed a good career that might even have been better were it not for the injury problems that caused him to retire at a relatively early age. He did his cruciate, for instance, just days after his first Ireland call-up, while a persistent knee problem ultimately ended a 10-year career in the game. Still, not many Irish youngsters who go across the water get to spend a number of seasons playing in the Premier League and representing their country.

“To a certain extent, [my father] helped me get there. But once you’re there, you’re on your own. What you want from it, it’s do or die.

“My ambition for the whole thing was I would outwork everyone. I would show that I was hungrier than everyone. I would do a lot more than anyone else. I wouldn’t stop. If you ran 10km, I’d run 11. If you did 50 press-ups, I’d do 60. That was my attitude to everything. A lot of the lads I played with were probably more technically gifted than me, but they lacked what I had. I had heart, fight and character. You knew if it was pissing rain on a Tuesday night and it was freezing cold, you could count on me. I’d turn up and was ready to go, whereas some of these technically gifted players didn’t. I had that hunger inside of me and that drive.”

Pepsi MAX is kicking off its sixth year as UEFA Champions League partners by giving fans a unique opportunity to be part of the action with the UEFA Champions League Trophy Event. The roadshow offers Irish fans a truly money-can’t-buy moment – the chance to experience glory and come face to face with the UEFA Champions League Trophy.

Correction: This article originally misstated John Meyler as the current rather than former Cork manager.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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