David Meyler does not have to look far for advice on handling the big occasion.
The Hull City midfielder will today walk out at Wembley to face Arsenal in the 133rd FA Cup final, an event that will garner a global television audience of over 500 million.
But the most important spectator will be Meyler’s father, John, the former Wexford and Cork hurler the player cites as the single biggest influence on his soccer career.
“He has shaped me as a person in life, never quick to judge me, always wants me to be a better person and helped me so much with my football,” said Meyler.
“I speak to him three or four times a day and he’s told me ‘just concentrate on the game. I don’t want to hear anything about tickets, just focus on the game, where you should be, who is doing what’.
“Not everyone is as fortunate with a father figure like that. If I ever have a problem or bit of bother, he is the first person I turn to. He is my father but a best friend, too, and I am very fortunate and very close to him.”
Meyler rarely plays a match not attended by his father. The only two games he missed this season were in the Cup, the fourth round and quarter-final win over Sunderland, in which David scored.
“The first was Southend when he was on holiday with my mother and she comes before me so I don’t mind that,” Meyler smiled.
“The second game was Sunderland in the quarter-final of the FA Cup. He was managing the Carlow senior hurlers that day. They won, so it was not so bad, but he rang me afterwards and I can’t really repeat what he said but it was along the lines of ‘I can’t believe I’ve missed it, you’ve scored, you’ve won 3-0’. I just said, ‘I know, Dad, but you can look forward to Wembley now’. I don’t think he slept that night and that is why he comes to every game because if he missed something I could say, ‘where were you?’.
“He didn’t miss a game in the Championship last season and everyone will remember Ahmed Elmohamady dancing in front of the cameras when we went up and a few people asked where I was. My dad and my best friend, who comes to games, were here and I ran out to them because it was a great achievement for the club but I wanted to thank them and celebrate with them because they have been through it all.”
John Meyler enjoyed a distinguished hurling career and was initially followed into the sport by his son, before a difficult choice had to be made.
“I had a big choice when I was younger,” Meyler, 24, recalled. “I was playing minor hurling for Cork, and the chance came to come to England. My dad has won an All-Ireland with Cork and two Munsters and captained and played for his local club St Finbarr’s, and he never wanted me to just go down the hurling route but wanted me to play every sport and whichever opportunity arose he wanted me to take.”
That move to England came in 2008 when, just months after signing his first professional soccer contract with Cork City, Sunderland, then managed by Roy Keane, came calling.
An injury-marred four years at the Stadium of Light was ended with the move to Hull, initially on loan, and a first cap for the Irish team followed. Meyler now has five caps and will be reunited with Keane, now Martin O’Neill’s assistant, in the summer for the national team’s friendlies.
“It was Johnny Fallon [the former Ireland kit man] who spotted me, playing for Cork City, and he told Roy ‘we’ve a young fella here who is not bad, have a look at him’ and Roy came to watch me.
“Then he invited me over for a trial and the next thing I know I am on a one-way trip to Sunderland and the rest is history. Roy has been a great influence. He gave me my first chance and I have thanked him many times for it. He was a fantastic player and I hope I can learn from him with the Ireland team.”
Over two seasons in East Yorkshire Meyler has developed into a key player in the heart of the Hull team holding down a regular place despite the arrival of Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore from Tottenham. He has made 39 appearances this season and seems to have done enough to make a 40th at Wembley. His boss is really impressed.
“He’s arguably one of Roy Keane’s best signings — £90,000 from Cork,” said Steve Bruce, the Hull manager. “He’s had injuries and has had to leave Sunderland to come again, to go to the Championship, and has had a big influence on us this year. There has been no stopping him. He’s great with the media now. He’s on Twitter and all sorts at the moment. He’s very, very good.”
Meyler is one of five Irishmen at Hull and four of them could be in the matchday 18 today. Shane Long will travel to London but is cup-tied and Robbie Brady, recovering from a groin injury since February, has a chance of making the bench. Meyler, Paul McShane and Stephen Quinn are all pushing for a start.
“They are a big part of what we’re about,” Bruce said. “They have got a brave spirit among them. They’ve all got something to prove. It’s a big, big occasion for them, just like everybody else. But the five of them, they are a little bit different. They are difficult at times to manage, but a pleasure to manage, if that makes sense. You know they are a little bit nuts but they are OK, they have got big hearts, which is very good.”
Hull’s Irish contingent are sure to have their work cut out today against Arsenal, who are strong favourites to end a nine-year trophy drought, but if Meyler ends the day with a winner’s medal, he knows where he can put it for safekeeping.
“My dad has everything, all the shirts I get and one day we’re going to buy a bar and put them all up on the walls,” he said. “He has scrapbooks, all my medals, even tickets from every game all in a frame, photos and different action shots. I think we would both cherish a medal but I would probably give it to my mother, Stella.”