It would be the perfect way to mark a significant milestone.
Next Wednesday David Meyler celebrates his 24th birthday. The Republic of Ireland face England that night. Involvement at Wembley would be a fitting finale to an eventful season that saw him leave Sunderland and the Premier League for Hull City and the Championship before securing a return to the big-time after a day of almost unbelievable tension.
“To play in Wembley against England on your birthday — provided we get a good result — would be stuff you only dream about,” Meyler says. “It would be the top off to the perfect year with promotion with Hull. To think that 10 months ago I was sitting on a bench at Sunderland and wondering if I was going to play. Then to come to Hull and have a terrific season, get promoted and get back into the Ireland squad again — I just can’t wait to get going.”
International friendlies are often derided, particularly at this stage of the season. but having made his Ireland debut in a friendly against Oman last September, Meyler understandably takes the view they have an importance.
“Friendlies are a great opportunity for players to show the manager what you’re capable of. It’s very hard for a manager to put a player who’s not tried and tested internationally into a European or World Cup qualifier. You have to take the opportunities when they come in friendlies.”
Involvement at Wembley would complete a remarkable return for Meyler. Twice his career was threatened by a cruciate ligament injury. It could have broken the spirit of a lesser man. Meyler, though, insists he never doubted he’d get back.
“Never. You have to be positive. You can’t look into the end of a glass. I remember I sat down with the physio and I said, ‘How long?’ and first time I sat down with him he said, ‘24 months’. Then it went to 18 and after the surgery, my surgeon was Steve Bollen, a fella from Bradford, who did both my operations said, ‘Everything is going brilliantly at my end — now the hard work starts’. I laughed and said ‘The hard work’s done because all I was worried about was you fixing my knee’. We cracked on with it and I was six and a half months before I got back playing.
“It’s all down to the individual. I’m lucky from the background I come from. We’re determined people, we don’t say no. You can’t lie down. You’ve got to get up and get on with it. The second time I remember we sat there and I said, ‘I done it once, I can do it twice’ and that was it.”
Thankfully for Meyler, his injury woe is now firmly behind him. Having made just 25 appearances during his five-year spell at Sunderland, Meyler made 29 appearances for Hull in the season just ended.
His 29th is one he won’t forget.
Hull needed to beat Cardiff City to guarantee promotion and looked certain to do so when Meyler won a penalty in added time with the Tigers, helped by a rare Paul McShane goal, leading 2-1. What followed was captivating drama for the neutral, utter agony for those involved.
It might perhaps have been avoided if Hull manager Steve Bruce didn’t intervene to stop Meyler from taking the spot-kick.
“I wanted to take it,” he recalls. “Robbie Koren would be our first penalty taker and he was injured and wasn’t playing. Robbie Brady, who would have next taken it, had gone off. So then there was no kind of determined penalty taker and I said to myself, ‘I’ve been fouled, I’m going to put it down and rifle it in’. Then the manager said, ‘Meyler get back, cover your position, get back in’. So I said, ‘Grand’.”
Nick Proschwitz stepped up but his penalty was saved before Cardiff went up the other end to win a penalty of their own. Nicky Maynard converted to leave the game level at 2-2 before the final whistle went. Then began the long wait. Promotion was now out of Hull’s hands. Watford’s game against Leeds was running 15 minutes late and was tied at 1-1. A Watford winner would condemn Meyler and Hull to the purgatory of the play-offs. Meyler recalls 15 minutes of torture.
“I remember walking back to the centre circle [after Cardiff’s equaliser] and putting my hands on my head and thinking, ‘That’s it, it’s gone’ because no disrespect to Leeds, Watford are a very good side and we don’t really know what’s going on.
“I’m walking back to the centre circle with my hands on my head and I’m actually contemplating walking off the pitch. For the final whistle to be blown and waiting for 15 minutes... torture.”
In the event, it was Leeds who grabbed the winner.
Now the challenge of the Premier League awaits. Some have already written Hull’s survival hopes off. Meyler, predictably, disagrees with such a gloomy prognosis.
“It [staying up] is 100% doable. Any team that finishes outside the top six, the first thing they always say is, ‘Hit the 40-point mark. Make sure we’re safe’. We’ve a terrific squad and I’ve no doubt the manager will strengthen it with top-class players. Players will want to come and play for Steve Bruce. He’ll bolster our squad and we’ll give it a right good go. I’m confident we’ll stay up.”
- David Meyler was speaking at Fota at the launch of the resort’s partnership with Mardyke Arena at University College Cork.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved