Perhaps it will be Stephen O’Brien that he follows around Croke Park come Sunday. Or maybe Sean O’Shea if he’s not playing as an inside forward. But whatever task Tyrone’s Conor Meyler is handed this weekend, he will not lack for resilience.
Over the summer, he tours the Cúl Camps around the county, inspiring the next generation. The theme of resilience is one that he returns to with frequency. As a past student and Sigerson-winning captain of St Mary’s College in Belfast and having completed a Masters in Education in DCU, he’s perfectly placed to deliver the lesson.
A son of former Tyrone player Seanie, he wasn’t afforded any preferential treatment throughout his underage days with their club, Omagh St Enda’s.
“I was lucky in my club, we had a B team at underage, and played a lot of B team football,” says the 24-year-old.
“It’s funny because my dad was manager of the A team a lot of the time, and I was down in the B team playing teams in Division Three and Four, getting tanked. He was winning the U16 Championship and stuff, which I wasn’t part of, but he knew himself it wasn’t going to get me footballing sitting on the bench, so it was better for me playing games.”
He didn’t make any county development squads. Instead, he was in demand for his enormous engine and beautiful running stride. Cross-country training expanded his lungs while track work honed the fast-twitch muscle fibres.
At 17, he was at a crossroads. He had played for Omagh CBS at MacRory level during the league games, but lost his place when the knockout stuff was on. He went for the Tyrone minors and when the panel was published on the website, his name wasn’t there. His first year of senior football he picked up a few injuries and slid back into the reserves.
From 18 years of age not making the county minors, two years later he was playing in a senior All-Ireland semi-final — against Kerry as it happens, in 2015.
“All those wee things, you probably take it personally and use it to motivate yourself,” he explains.
I think that’s helped over the years, dealing with these setbacks. Talking to children at camps these days about setbacks and resilience, I don’t think they fully understand how important it is at a younger age to deal with these things.
“You can look and blame other people and make excuses, this ‘victim mentality’ that it’s everyone else’s fault, or you can do something about it yourself. I would be more that way inclined.”
Meyler’s county senior career has had the odd bump on the road. He was an electrifying ball-carrier in the All-Ireland winning U21 team of 2015, but that style didn’t truly translate into senior football apart from one incredible performance in the 2016 McKenna Cup final against Derry.
His tendency to carry the ball into trouble was rectified. Harte saw something else in him — a man who had the athleticism to stick with the opposition playmaker and trail them around the park.
To revisit resilience once more, he broke his tibia against Donegal in the final round of the Super 8s last season. The first medical verdict was that he was gone for 12 weeks and his season was over.
Four weeks later, he ran out to start the All-Ireland final. His task for the day was to mark Dublin’s Brian Fenton.
“I wasn’t working, just doing camps and stuff which I pulled the pin on, it wasn’t a priority. There are small things you can do, sleeping in an oxygen tent and getting advice on nutrition and trying to help the bone repair. Just different machines and icing it,” he recalls.
“I’d say my ones were sick of going down to the shop to get ice and things. Once you were back walking it was then the rehabilitation two or three times a day, in the pool and up seeing medical staff. Whatever inch you could get, you could take.
“It progressed at a level where it was viable to be running after three weeks and it gave you a week of running and training where then you were fit for selection.”
And so, to Kerry. The Conor Meyler that takes the field now is an entirely different animal to the one that played in the 2015 defeat.
“We’ve been building, I was 20 when I started that game in 2015, I’m 24 now. I’m a bit older and a bit wiser,” he says.
“We’ve been building collectively this last number of years, we’ve been in four of the last five semi-finals so it’s what we’re getting used to. I think we’re maybe a bit further on in our development now and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”