AN FA Cup final appearance would be a career highlight for any player, but for Hull City midfielder David Meyler, Saturday’s Wembley showpiece with Arsenal promises to be an even more special affair.
During his five years with Sunderland, Meyler suffered two cruciate ligament injuries that kept him sidelined for a combined total of more than 12 months.
The first, which saw him stretchered from the field during a game with Manchester United in May 2010, was so serious it was initially feared his career could be over. Never mind playing in a cup final – at that stage, it looked as though the Republic of Ireland international might struggle to even walk again.
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“I made a right mess of my leg that first time,” said Meyler, who made a £1.5m switch from Sunderland to Hull in January 2013. “I knew I would not be right for a long time, and I was told I might never walk properly again.
“So in that context, the opportunity to play in an FA Cup final – and I don’t know if I will be playing yet obviously – would be fantastic. It would be a remarkable day for me and the family.
“The first time was so bad. The second time only really felt like someone had broken my fingernail, but it was the length of time I still needed after having done the first one.”
On both occasions, Meyler returned to action quicker than had been anticipated, and the 24-year-old is quick to pay tribute to Steve Bollen, the surgeon Sunderland recommended take control of his treatment.
“He did a fantastic job on both for me, so I have to thank him for looking after me,” he said.
While surgical procedures have improved markedly in recent years, it is still relatively rare for a player to recover from two cruciate ligament injuries, particularly when they have affected the same knee.
Meyler has done exactly that, and after a season that has seen him emerge as a crucial midfielder in a Hull side that has qualified for Europe for the first time in the club’s history, he is fully aware of just how lucky he is to still be playing at such a high level.
“I would not say it drives me on, but I appreciate the small things a lot more,” he said. “When you spend 18 months out injured, it is never nice.
“When you are training every day, you relish it and enjoy it, and I look at a couple of (injured) players in our squad who have not been as lucky as me and think, ‘I have been in your situation, I know what you are going through - keep your heads down and keep working hard, don’t rush and when you are ready you will know and you will be called upon’. With the physios here, who are top lads, they will get back.”
Meyler followed Steve Bruce to the KC Stadium, and while the current Hull boss might not have won too many popularity contests at the Stadium of Light, few could question the quality of his work on Humberside in the last two seasons.
“The manager gave me a great opportunity at Sunderland, and then another one to come and play at Hull,” said Meyler. “When I spoke to him, he said, ‘I want you to come and be a part of this’.
“I said, ‘How do I know you are going to be promoted?’ He said, ‘Do you believe in me?’ I said, ‘Yeah’, and he said, ‘Trust me, I will get this team promoted’. Within a year, he did it. That just shows what a great manager he is.”