DAVID Meyler believes a first pre-season campaign in four years can reignite his Sunderland career.
Meyler made just one start for the Black Cats last season and was restricted to a solitary outing from the bench over the final three months of the campaign.
But the 23-year-old insists he was inevitably playing catch-up in the fitness stakes after only returning to the fold last October following seven months out with a second significant knee ligament lay-off.
Last summer was the third pre-season in a row where Meyler had been unable to play a full part and the Irish midfielder is hoping for better fortune when Martin O’Neill puts the Sunderland squad through their paces next month.
Meyler told the Echo: “I haven’t had a proper pre-season in four years, since the first one I signed for Sunderland.
“Even when Steve Bruce took over, his first pre-season I got injured through it - hurt my ankle in a tackle.
“It is so hard to play catch up if you miss it.
“When you come back from an injury, you start running, then you join in with the reserves. That’s tough and then it’s even tougher when you join in with the first-team.
“It’s harder again when you get to a reserve team game and the pinnacle of the lot is a Premier League game.
“Lots of players struggle there, never mind if you’ve been out eight or nine months.
“To come back and reach that level of fitness and to be able to compete in a game of that calibre is tough.”
Meyler has pledged to keep himself in shape over the summer and will return for pre-season training next month desperate to make a mark on O’Neill.
“The sports scientists draw up plans for us to do during the summer,” added the former Cork City man.
“After you finish, you might have a week or two of doing nothing.
“But then you’ve got to start straight away again. I’ll go hell for leather over pre-season.
“At the level we’re at, you can’t afford to take six or seven weeks off and then come back in and expect to be as fit as you were.
“I know pre-season is there to get you fit, but it’s there to take you from that 80 per cent that you should be to the 100.
“You can’t put on weight or get out shape. You have to keep working hard.”