DAVID Meyler is determined to make the most of his Ireland opportunity – more than two years after his international hopes were put on ice.
The Sunderland midfielder was set to make his Republic of Ireland bow at the end of the 2009/10 campaign after being called up to the senior squad for friendlies against Algeria and Paraguay.
But the first of two knee ligament injuries forced Meyler to withdraw and he was not in the picture for his country again until last weekend, when Everton midfielder Darron Gibson pulled out of the squad.
That opened the door for Meyler and the 23-year-old is now scrapping with Wigan’s James McCarthy for a midfield spot in Friday’s World Cup qualifier in Kazakhstan and Monday’s friendly against Oman.
Even if he is restricted to the bench though, Meyler knows the importance of making a first-hand impression on boss Giovanni Trapattoni while the injured Paul Green and suspended Keith Andrews are both unavailable.
Meyler said: “As a kid, I wanted to play for Ireland every day of my life.
“I remember watching them at the World Cup in 1994 when I was five years old.
“I don’t want to be called up and never get the call again,
“With suffering two serious injuries in the last two years obviously it’s vital I make an impression to ensure that he (Trapattoni) keeps me in the squad.
“I obviously want to stay here so I have to take every training session like it’s my last and if I get the opportunity to play in either of the two games I have to make an impression.”
Few players merit a reward as much as Meyler after returning to the Premier League from his second knee injury last October.
Despite loan interest from Hull City, Meyler has featured in both of Sunderland’s opening two top-flight encounters this time around and insists his injury troubles are now firmly behind him.
“You learn about mental toughness from suffering setbacks like that,” added the former Cork City man.
“You have to work harder than everyone else just to get that bit of fitness. I went to America for two weeks and worked on the strength of my knees and they couldn’t be stronger at the moment thanks to all the medical staff at Sunderland.
“There was always that fear (about my career). The talk to me was that the damage could have been that bad, that I mightn’t have been back for about two years. So to come back in nine months was a miracle.
“When I returned from the first injury, the club banned me from tackling and I used to get fined every time I tackled, which cost me quite a few bob.
“The way I play is that I tackle all the time, so it’s right in the back of my head now. It’s been so long since those injuries happened.”
Meanwhile, Meyler’s Sunderland team-mate James McClean could be ruled out of the clash in Kazakhstan through illness.
McClean missed training on Monday with a cold and was sent home from yesterday’s training session in Dublin with the same problem.
Trapattoni will assess the winger today before deciding whether he is fit enough to join the rest of the squad aboard their six-and-a-half-hour flight to Astana.
“McClean came here with a sore throat,” said Trapattoni. “Yesterday morning he was better, but now he has a little problem with it.
“I think he will be OK. Then we will make a decision. That’s all we can do.”