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Dublin: 17°C Saturday 8 May 2021

David Meyler: Christmas can be different when you're playing but I always reminded myself how lucky I was

In this week’s column, the ex-Ireland midfielder looks back at his career before predicting how two of the weekend’s biggest Premier League games will go.

Playing for Hull against Burnley on St Stephen's Day in 2015.
Playing for Hull against Burnley on St Stephen's Day in 2015.
Image: PA

EX-IRELAND INTERNATIONAL David Meyler has joined The42 as our new football columnist for this season.

Every Friday, the former Hull City and Sunderland midfielder will give expert insight and his predictions ahead of the weekend’s Premier League action, alongside the latest William Hill prices. 

In his latest piece, David discusses his experiences of the Christmas schedule as a player before looking ahead to two of this weekend’s biggest matches — Man United v Leeds United and Tottenham v Leicester City. 

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Manchester United v Leeds United, 4.30pm Sunday

While many people will be winding down in work over the coming days, Christmas is arguably the busiest time of the year for professional footballers plying their trade in the UK. 

The Premier League — and the broadcasters who fork out huge sums for TV rights — want to show as many matches as possible, which means it can be a hectic period. 

And although the fixtures schedule was often tough as games came thick and fast throughout December and January, I must admit that I enjoyed it during my career. 

There were Christmas Days when we would be brought in to train at 10am, given a couple of hours to go home to our families and then instructed to meet up with the squad again that evening and stay in a hotel as we would have a game on St Stephen’s Day.

So Christmas is certainly a different experience when you’re playing but I made sure to remind myself of how lucky I was to be doing what I had always dreamed of.

At that time, I didn’t have children so it would have been a different situation if our two kids were around back then. 

Fortunately, my wife has always been very understanding when it comes to my work commitments. She supported me by having in everything that I needed before a game, allowing me to just concentrate on my football. That made things a lot easier and while I may have sometimes taken it for granted, I’m extremely thankful to her when I look back now.

The idea behind staying in a hotel is to guarantee that you get a good night’s sleep and have no distractions. In my experience, football clubs treated Christmas Day like any other as there was a job to done, but we were all adults and were fully aware of the situation. There are plenty of crappy films on Christmas night, so once we had finishing eating, I’d usually watch one of those before bed.

The last time I went home to Cork for Christmas was after signing for Sunderland in 2008 as I had been given a couple of days off. After that, my dad said ‘Right, he won’t be back any more so we’ll go over to him’.

During my career, my parents travelled across to visit me before Christmas Day and stayed here for St Stephen’s Day to attend my game. My mum and sister would then return to Ireland and my dad would often hang on to watch me play on New Year’s Day. 

It is more than a year since I announced my retirement but I still miss that buzz of playing. You make a lot of sacrifices, which people will be quick to say you get paid handsomely for, and I don’t dispute that. However, it’s training on a Friday and Saturday games I’d love to have back the most. Friday was a fun session and then Saturday is your bread and butter — what you get up in the morning and work all week for.

I relished the challenge, that feeling of winning after the final whistle when you knew you had worked as hard as you could as a team to achieve your common goal. On the flip side, after a loss you might come home and think ‘Fucking hell, I’ve given everything but we were just weren’t at it today’.

nicky-butt-battles-with-stephen-mcphail Nicky Butt and Stephen McPhail when Man United faced Leeds in February 2004. Source: PA

This weekend sees Manchester United and Leeds United meet in the Premier League for the first time since February 2004. Four Irish players featured at Old Trafford that day — John O’Shea, Gary Kelly, Stephen McPhail and Roy Keane — while a young James Milner also started for the visitors in a 1-1 draw. 

There is traditionally a big rivalry between these two clubs, so it’s a real shame that there won’t be any fans in attendance. The style that Leeds play under Marcelo Bielsa, I can see them getting a result. I think they’ll catch United by surprise and win 2-1.  

Tottenham v Leicester City, 2.15pm Sunday

Also in action this Sunday are two clubs flying high in the table at the moment — Tottenham and Leicester City. As I’ve said here in the past, I like what Jose Mourinho is building at Spurs but I feel that the Foxes can claim a narrow victory here, so I’ll predict a 2-1 away win

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