Highway to Hull paved with promise for determined duo
David Meyler and Robbie Brady have put their careers first by signing for Hull, writes Dion Fanning
Shortly before Robbie Brady signed for Manchester United, Liam Brady told him Arsenal would match any offer if he signed for them. Liverpool were trying to attract his attention too and invited the player and his family to Istanbul for the Champions League final.
Brady was 11 or 12 when the scouts first showed up at St Kevin's in Whitehall to see what he could do and they were waiting for him in English football. Robbie Brady came from a family of footballers and his father Shay has shaped his days around watching his sons play. Robbie's older brother Darren had a trial at West Ham, while his three younger brothers have all played with St Kevin's as well.
Shay works in security in Dublin airport and has always been proud of Robert. At the European Championships last summer, Damien Duff joked that Shay always told him when he passed through the airport that his son would soon be joining him in the Ireland squad.
David Meyler came home from practice one day and announced, "I'm retiring." He was eight years old and the sport was swimming not football. Meyler played football, hurling and Gaelic football. He also tried karate.
Last week, both players signed for Hull City, a move which will shape their future and which, according to those who know both players, they will see as an opportunity despite the fact that they have both left Premier League clubs.
Robbie Brady is 21 tomorrow. His name has been whispered in Dublin football circles for ten years. Manchester United's decision to let him leave has been criticised by some United supporters but Brady will be determined to make the move an opportunity not a setback.
Brady and Meyler have been successful on loan at Hull and now they are joining in the belief that the club will take them back to the Premier League.
They arrived in English football through different routes. Meyler seems to be another example of the benefits that come to Irish players if they stay and play in the League of Ireland. His father John believes it gave his son the best chance of succeeding.
"If he'd gone at 15, he'd be back home. I think when kids go over at that age they think they have a lifetime to make it. When you go over at 18 or 19, you have a six-month window."
While Shay Brady was making sure he saw all his sons play, John Meyler was ensuring his son played every important game across the codes. He had abandoned swimming but he still played hurling and Gaelic football. People would tell John Meyler he was holding his son back but he knew what he was doing, making sure his son didn't overplay.
Meyler was signed by Roy Keane. There was a Cork connection that endured even after Keane left Sunderland. "Because they're Cork fellas, they'd look out for each other," John Meyler says. Meyler was given an opportunity by Damien Richardson at Cork City and had been spotted by Keane who was always looking for players who might be as desperate to succeed as he was.
Brady's path was different. When Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal are your choices, a teenager is never going to say no and few parents will be able to stop them.
Ken Donohoe, director of football at St Kevin's, says Robbie Brady was always considered special even in a St Kevin's team which, in 2006, provided seven players for an Ireland under 15 fixture against Holland.
Brady worked with coaches Billy McCormac, Kevin Wallace and Paul Boyle who ensured that his talent was maximised. St Kevin's are renowned for their ability to develop young players and have been described as "an oasis in the desert".
Brady played with talented players while his own talent was "explosive," Donohue says. Donohue mentions Derby County's Jeff Hendrick – or 'Jeffrey' as he calls him – who is expected by many to get a senior international call-up shortly as a player who matched Brady for application and desire.
Hendrick went to England at an early age but Donohue sees the merit in staying, while understanding why so many say yes. "The way the kids look at it, they're never going to be asked again and it's very hard for them to say no."
Brady and Hendrick are different but Donohue echoes John Meyler's words and says, "Kids don't realise it's the start of the battle when they sign for an English club."
Nobody can question David Meyler's determination. He took his opportunity, even if it took 18 months for the determination he had shown in that six-month window to lead to a Sunderland debut. The senior players at Sunderland were impressed but also felt he was raw. Meyler was sent off in his fifth match for the club, two minutes after coming on as a sub. But that was nothing. At the beginning of May, at Old Trafford, he suffered the first of two serious knee injuries within the space of eight months.
At Old Trafford that evening when they waited for confirmation that he had damaged his cruciate ligament, his father remembers the words of his son. "We were in bits but David looked at me and said, 'You go home and look after Mum. I'll be fine'."
Less than eight months later, David Meyler was saying the same thing again to his father when, having recovered from the cruciate ligament injury, he damaged the medial ligament of the same knee playing at Villa Park in January two years ago.
John Meyler, having played for and coached inter-county hurling teams, knows sportsmen and he says when he looks at his son, he is able to look at him like he would any other sportsman. He may have been "in bits" about his son's injury but he also glimpsed in those moments, something that he had seen in sportsmen who rose to the top.
"You don't find resolve in the bottom of a pint glass or on a high stool," he says. You'll find it in yourself." Those months were hard but John Meyler was sure his son would find that resolve. "He has mental toughness."
Others helped too. Meyler had been in an Irish squad before injury and the FAI helped by keeping in touch. "There are some great people in there and I have to give them great credit. They were very supportive."
Meyler has looked back to fitness this season but the 18 months recovering have created an urgency which might benefit Hull and Ireland. Both players have the talent to succeed at Hull as they push for promotion. Neither will be allowed to think he has made it which is something that can happen players when they move to smaller clubs.
Hull acquired huge debts trying to stay in the Premier League and relegation three years ago wasn't the way to manage them. Their £3.5m investment in Meyler and Brady is as significant move for them as it for the players.
The 3-1 home defeat last night to Sheffield Wednesday – 20 places below them – wasn't part of the plan.
Brady's departure from Manchester United was a moment for many to reflect that a club whose magical history has been created by many great Irish players was without a senior Irish player again.
Brady must be praised for moving his career on rather than waiting around Old Trafford hoping for an opportunity. Meyler, too, took the opportunity to play and to demonstrate the inner resolve. Hull are fighting for promotion. Meyler and Brady will be central to their plans but they're also entering the most decisive period of their careers.
"You're on your own," John Meyler says. "There's no picking up the phone and looking for your mummy."
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