Captain Meyler earns just reward for persistence

Where were you on the evening of November 18, 2014?

Picture: Sportsfile

If you were at Lansdowne Road, do you remember who the Ireland captain was?

If so, well done, but going by the reaction of many last night to the decision to give David Meyler the captain’s armband, you won’t remember the Cork man first wore it at international level two years ago.

Ireland beat the United States 4-1 that night, in just Meyler’s 13th appearance for his country, and there wasn’t a prouder man in the stadium than the Hull City midfielder.

Well, apart from maybe his father John, who has been a coach as much as a dad to the 28-year-old.

Last night, on his 21st cap, was the first time Meyler captained the team in a competitive match, and the match programme neatly told us that he is one of just 69 players to have had the honour in the green shirt.

A scan of midfielders show us the good company he keeps: Damien Duff, Steven Reid, Roy Keane, Ray Houghton and Ronnie Whelan, all within the last 20 years alone.

Few will place Meyler in that strata of international player, he is essentially a slow man’s James McClean, but there’s a reason he was given the honour at all, and a reason he was often the last man back in last night’s stroll.

Simply put, whatever limitations Meyler has technically, he never lacks for commitment and confidence.

Remember his comments ahead of Ireland v Germany three years ago? “Bastian Schweinsteiger may have won everything in the game, but he’s still human like me.”

Alongside commitment and confidence, one must also place perseverance.

Where were you on the afternoon of May 2, 2010? Meyler was just five weeks into a five-year contract with Sunderland when he ruptured his cruciate knee ligaments in the final game of the season, just weeks before he was meant to join up with one of Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland camps.

Where were you in January 5, 2011? Five weeks after a quicker than expected return to action, Meyler suffered cruciate ligament damage to the very same knee, an injury that made some fear he might never fulfil the potential that convinced Roy Keane to bring him to Sunderland from Cork City in 2008.

That injury could have been enough for many to throw the towel in, but Meyler had other things on his mind.

“I hurt my knee for the second time and I remember being in the dressing room with dad and Steve Bruce [then Hull boss],” Meyler recalled, some years later. “My dad said ‘I’ll come back up with you make sure you’re ok’, but I said I did it once I can do it again. Don’t worry about me — mum is starting treatment for cancer and to me once mum is ok, I’ll be ok...”

That sense of perspective gave Meyler an ability to pursue his dream no matter the obstacles in front of him on the football pitch: There was never an excuse.

“Things could always be worse, I’m in a lucky position — a lot of people don’t get that opportunity. I hurt my knee, there are much more important things in life.”

In 2014, Meyler’s parents were in Aviva Stadium to see him pull on the armband for the first time, and he admitted to being lost for words when O’Neill, his former boss at Sunderland, handed it to him before the game.

Life hasn’t been a box of roses since, with a handful of midfield options continuing to block his path to regular international football. But the tide may be shifting.

Meyler is one of the few Ireland players to be guaranteed 20 games or more a season, and he’s no longer the ‘walking booking’ he once was.

He came on as an early replacement for Glenn Whelan in the win over Austria last November, and started against Wales and Serbia this year, with Whelan left on the bench last night.

Some long-range efforts aside, Moldova didn’t overly threaten an Ireland side on the front foot for most of the night, with Meyler sitting in the centre circle, urging others on.

His one-on-one duel with Radu Ginsari raised a cheer early on, and at half-time he had completed 93% of his passes to keep Ireland ticking over.

The much-maligned Whelan, who first skippered Ireland just eight months before Meyler did, may not take as kindly to sitting on the bench as Meyler did, and the next campaign could see the Cork man play a more central role as O’Neill’s older warriors move on.

O’Neill was reluctant to allow Meyler leave Sunderland when he did back in 2012, he might be even more reluctant to do without him now.

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