On the fringes for so long, David Meyler is now Ireland's crucial midfield warrior

The Corkman has been superb throughout the qualification campaign.

Image: Tommy Dickson; ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson/INPHO

IT CERTAINLY WASN’T pretty but the game-plan was simple: roll up the sleeves, dig in and do whatever it takes.

And in many respects, it was exactly the attritional environment that David Meyler thrives in.

He was superb throughout, a relentlessly physical and combative presence in the middle of the park. Opponents bounced off him. So too did the ball, many times, as he threw himself at a variety of long-distance efforts from the increasingly-frantic hosts.

He’s a curious one.

He’s been a member of the senior squad for five years but has amassed just 22 caps. Over the last number of years, he’s had to watch a litany of other players be preferred to him in his favoured central midfield role.

For a long time, he was the utility man. The guy you called in an emergency. Need a right-back? ‘Ah, sure Meyler can do it.’ A right-sided midfielder? ‘Dave’ll do a job there.’

It’s taken a while for him to be looked upon as a key member of the starting XI. But he’s delivered some standout performances during these World Cup qualifiers and, as others have slipped from their pedestal and faded into the background, Meyler – so often consigned to the shadows – has eagerly bounded towards the spotlight and found that he belongs there.

He’s now an Irish captain, and for good reason. When we talk about heart and determination and spirit, some players immediately spring to mind. But while the likes of James McClean and others oft-times see their over-enthusiasm lead to poor decision-making or costly errors, some provide a perfect balance of intensity and composure. That’s the example to follow and why Meyler has stepped so seamlessly into a skipper’s role.

It’s taken him a while. He’s curbed some of the instinctive things that used to see him pick up silly bookings. The one he received last night – after racing to shut down and harass goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey deep into stoppage time – was his third of the season in all competitions.

He’ll miss the first-leg of the play-offs because of it but the incident said so much about him. Squeezing Wales deep inside their own half was necessary. And for Meyler, sacrifice is just part of the package.

And that says a lot about a guy who knows all about the cost of over-extending. It seems like a long time ago now but there was a genuine concern for his career after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while still at Sunderland and damaged medial ligaments in the same knee just after returning to action.

David Meyler Source: Ryan Byrne; ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He battled back but he’s amassed quite a collection of battle wounds, the latest being more ligament damage in his left knee that saw last season come to a premature end.

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Still, he’s used to it now. And his displays for club and country (he’s scored three times for Hull, two from the penalty spot) reflect an athlete that’s hitting their stride. Meyler is now indispensable for both.

After the Welsh result and speaking to RTE, he allowed himself a brief, fleeting moment to reflect on captaining his country to a famous away win before quickly turning his attentions to what comes next.

There wasn’t even a hint of a smile. It was all very matter-of-fact. There was a job to do. Onto the play-offs.

For that first game, this Irish team will miss him. A reflection of just how far he’s come in a green shirt.

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Eoin O'Callaghan

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