DAVID Meyler completed his first full game in 10 months last night to raise further hopes that he can overcome not one but two career-threatening injuries in the space of 18 months.
The 22-year-old played the full 90 minutes in the Reserves’ 3-1 win over Wigan at Eppleton CW to make it two milestones in four days – the combative midfielder having made his first-team return in the dying minutes of Sunderland’s 2-2 weekend draw with West Brom.
And afterwards he was elated to make such significant progress on the comeback trail.
“It’s great,” he told the Echo. “It felt good to play a full game again and I’ve had no reaction to it whatsoever – the knee feels fine and I’m pleased with that.
“I know I’ve got to take my time and be careful as I come back, but there’s really light at the end of the tunnel now and I’m looking forward to getting fitter and sharper now.”
The Republic of Ireland midfielder has barely played since May last year after suffering two serious knee ligament injuries, the second of which was sustained at Aston Villa in January, just a handful of matches into his comeback.
Both January’s injury and the one against Manchester United the previous May were to the right knee and it placed serious doubts over the young Irishman’s prospect of ever returning to competitive football.
Meyler has shown terrific strength of character to twice battle back from the injuries which could have ended his career but admits that last night was the acid test.
“There is a mental hurdle to get over when you’ve had a serious injury, but getting through the 90 minutes last night – and the few minutes I had in the first team at the weekend – has got me over that,” he said.
“To come off the bench on Saturday against West Brom was fantastic, if a little unexpected.
“I hadn’t been in the original squad, but David Vaughan was ill and I was told to get myself ready.
“To be honest, I was shocked by the reception I got when I came on to the pitch – to hear the fans cheering like they did.
“I was thrilled and I’d like to thank all the fans for the support they have given me.
“I was delighted to have got on and it goes to show that the manager has got trust and faith in me.
“Now I just want to get back playing and repay him.”
Meyler has shown tremendous dedication to get back playing again, with his rehab including a stint at a specialist clinic in America which has given him career-long advice on how to look after himself and the knee from now on.
He added: “The physios here at Sunderland, and the people I worked with over in America, have been brilliant in teaching me how to handle it from now on and how to use my balance to protect it.
“I have worked hard to get fit again and I’m just delighted to be back playing again.
“When you’ve had a serious injury like this one, it makes you appreciate your career all the more.
“When I was growing up, all I wanted to do was play football and Roy Keane gave me the chance to come to Sunderland and Steve Bruce gave me the chance to make my debut.
“But when you have played 15 games or so and then the physios tell you that you are going to be out for eight or nine months, it is a real kick in the teeth.
“I’ve had great support from everyone at the club, though, and I’m really grateful for that. Hopefully I can just continue to improve now.”