DAVID Meyler will put club before country as he continues to make up for lost time on the comeback trail.
Meyler made his fifth Sunderland appearance of the season in this week’s reserve-team win over Newcastle, another sign that he is battling back from the serious knee injury that saw him miss more than a year of football.
There were private fears that the combative midfielder might not play at the top level again after he suffered a recurrence of the injury at Aston Villa last season – but it is a testament to both his mental strength and determination that he is back playing and on the fringe of the Black Cats’ first team again.
He looked in good nick against Newcastle’s second string and should return to the bench for Sunderland’s crunch clash against Fulham on Saturday.
But having been called up for the Ireland squad when he suffered his cruciate ligament rupture, his midweek destination might have been different from the sparsely-populated Stadium of Light that played host to the latest step on Meyler’s return on Wednesday.
For while his country is heading to Euro 2012, the former Cork City man’s only focus is on getting close to a return for the Black Cats – with thoughts of Poland and Ukraine next summer yet to enter his thinking.
“I was very proud to be Irish on Wednesday. We’ve waited since 1988 to be back in (the finals of) this competition and we’re thrilled,” he said.
“It’s a terrific squad – we’ve got lads who play in the Premier League week in, week out and we’ll go out there and give a good account of ourselves.
“I’m obviously absolutely delighted for Ireland to qualify for the Euros, but for me, I’m not thinking about that at all. Getting in that squad isn’t my priority. Obviously the manager, Mr Trapattoni, will have his own squad that he’ll want to take and I’m not thinking about the European Championships.
“Sunderland are my absolute priority. I’m only thinking about Sunderland and getting back into the manager’s plans here – starting every week is my goal and that is going to be tough with the players that we have here.”
Understandably Sunderland are keen not to rush Meyler back, but the 22-year-old insists his knee feels as good as it did before the injury.
Match fitness and sharpness, he claims, is the only thing required to give him a chance of battling into the first-team reckoning.
“I’m confident I can get back to that level that I was at before,” he said.
“I’ll keep working with the physios, the manager, the assistant manager and we’ll just put in all the work I need to get back to that level.
“It felt terrific to get another 90 minutes under my belt on Wednesday. It has been a long 18-and-a-half months, but that is my fifth game in any shape or form now and I’m absolutely delighted.
“The knee feels good. It’s felt good for about two or three months now. I just need to work on my match fitness and match sharpness and that will help me get back where I need to be. Obviously the Premier League is a very tough league to play in, so I need sharpness and fitness to get myself fully into it.”
There has been much talk about Sunderland requiring points from back-to-back home fixtures against Fulham and Wigan, but Meyler believes Black Cats fans should see the bigger picture.
“The season won’t be defined by the next four games – it’ll be defined by the next 27. That will decide our season,” he said. “We’ll take Fulham on Saturday and build from there.”