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Friday 20 April 2018

'You would die for O'Neill'

Former Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni with players, from left to right, James McClean, James McCarthy, David Meyler, and Robbie Brady. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Former Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni with players, from left to right, James McClean, James McCarthy, David Meyler, and Robbie Brady. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

AS ONE of the few footballers who has worked under both Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane, David Meyler has a privileged position when it comes to the new regime at the helm of the national team.

The midfielder's link to the new manager and assistant manager of the Irish side – Keane signed Meyler for Sunderland in 2008 and O'Neill sold the Corkman on, at a healthy profit for the Black Cats four years later – didn't yield an instant return this week as Meyler didn't make it into the 27-man squad for the friendly games against Latvia and Poland.

But while Meyler will have to wait a while for his international career to be revived, he says he's excited by the prospect of his first and last manager at Sunderland combining with the national team.

And the 24-year-old – one of only three Irish players, along with Colin Healy and Liam Miller to have been involved with Keane and O'Neill – dismisses the theory that the duo are hands-off managers who don't get their hands dirty on the training ground.

"When I was at Sunderland they were both in every day. Some days they would take sessions, other days they would let staff take the session but they were there every day," Meyler told the Herald.

"They would work hard at improving players, telling you where you were going wrong and trying to make you a better player.

"They will trust their staff with Ireland as they did at the club. If Wally (Steve Walford) comes in to the Ireland set-up with them it would be great, he has been around football for a long time and he knows how to coach, but we don't really know yet who will be in their backroom team.

"Martin was an excellent manager but a very good coach. He was a great motivator, good at man-management. He would make you fight to win, he's the kind of manager you would be willing to die for, he gets you so into the game. It will be fabulous for the players and it's great for Irish football.

"They both have had great careers, Martin did extremely well wherever he was a manager and Roy did terrifically well at Sunderland, getting them promoted. It didn't work out as well as he'd have liked at Ipswich but they are both outstanding people and this will be very inspiring for Irish football.

"I think the fans will get behind this, they will get a great buzz from this and everyone is really looking forward to the Latvia game next week. Fair play to the FAI for going out and securing the appointment as this will be great for Irish football," Meyler added.

His own career took off thanks to the input of Keane. Meyler had just broken into the Cork City team midway through the 2008 season when Keane, then heading into his second full season at Sunderland, was alerted to the young Cork lad.

Within days a deal was done, Meyler signed for Sunderland and played his first game for the Black Cats in Ireland, in a friendly against Cobh Ramblers, and although Meyler never got to play a competitive game under Keane, the influence was there.

"Roy was a big influence on me. He grew up very close to where I am from in Cork, and as a kid growing up in Cork you'd see someone like Roy Keane, who had the same background and upbringing as yourself, playing for Manchester United and captaining Ireland and it'd give you hope that it could happen for you," Meyler reflected.

"I was very grateful that he gave me the opportunity to come to England. I was 18 and playing for Cork City, you wonder if that will be it for your career and if you will ever get a break. "I was playing with Cork City, Roy had seen me or heard about me so he invited me over to Sunderland for a week, it was a trial really, so he could see how I shaped up in that environment, what sort of person I was as a well as a player.

"I trained with the first team, I got a chance, and that was it for me. I remember being out for lunch with a buddy of mine after the trial, I got a phone call from the club secretary at Sunderland saying that they wanted me over to sign, they booked me onto a flight that Friday, so I packed my bag and off I went, and I have never looked back since. I didn't get to play for the first team under Roy, he went a few months after I joined the club," Meyler added.

What followed at Sunderland for Meyler was a mixture of highs and lows: regular Premier League football as well as two serious cruciate injuries. O'Neill arrived at the Stadium of Light in December 2011 and before long Meyler was in the team, but within a year he had departed the club.

"Martin was at the club when I left Sunderland. I went on loan to Hull at first, Martin didn't want me to go as he wanted me around the club but I felt that at that stage of my career, having recovered from two serious injuries, I needed a long run of games and I wasn't getting that at Sunderland," he says.

"So I wanted a loan move, Martin wanted me to stay on but he understood my reasons for leaving. The move to Hull was great for me."

His club career now in good shape after working his way back into the Hull side under Bruce, international football is sadly missing. Since he was on the bench for the friendly against Wales in August, Meyler has been out in the cold, under Giovanni Trapattoni and Noel King and he was also left out of the 27-man panel for the upcoming games.

"I wasn't in the last couple of squads but I can only keep plugging away at my club," says Meyler, capped four times at senior level.

"I always believe that if you are doing the business for your club, international football will take care of itself. We have Southampton tomorrow and that's my focus for this week."

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