After being warned he could be crippled by knee problems, the midfielder who made headlines for being head-butted by Alan Pardew is relishing the showdown with Arsenal
May 2010: The results of the MRI scan on David Meyler's right knee arrive and even medical experts shudder. "Terrible", is the consensus. In the course of a difficult conversation, the Sunderland midfielder is gently warned he might never be able to walk normally again. As urgent surgery is scheduled, club officials discreetly confirm the relevant insurance documents are in order and the manager, Steve Bruce, tells confidants he fears the young Irishman's career could be over.
May 2014: Meyler is smiling. Broadly. Four years and two major knee operations on, he and Bruce are not only reunited at Hull City but preparing for Saturday's FA Cup final against Arsenal. Sun streams through the windows of the KC Stadium's media room as the 24-year-old details a footballing miracle to rival the Houdini-esque escape from relegation his old club have just accomplished.
"To put things in context I was told I might never walk properly again," says Meyler, recalling the aftermath of a fateful day at the Stadium of Light when an ostensibly harmless tackle from Manchester United's Patrice Evra resulted in his studs catching in the turf. "I made a right mess of my leg, so to have the opportunity to play in an FA Cup final is fantastic. It'll be a remarkable day for me and my family."
Rewind four years, though, and Bruce was braced for bad news. "David's injury was horrific," says Hull's manager "I can't overstate how serious it was. It was arguably the worst knee injury of its type any player's ever had. David severed the lot – cruciate, medial and lateral ligaments as well as cartilage. It was horrible."
Following a ligament reconstruction, bone graft and the insertion of screws, the prognosis brightened. After seven weeks with his leg tightly braced Meyler embarked on an intensive rehabilitation programme.
Slowly he learned to bend his knee again. Gradually the physiotherapists, who had initially thought he might be two years from a comeback, began talking about 18 months and then a year out but by November he was playing for Sunderland's reserves. Arguably, it was too much too soon as, shortly after being recalled to the first team, Meyler's knee buckled beneath him during a game against Aston Villa in January 2011.
Another ligament reconstruction beckoned. "The first time was bad but the second time it just felt like someone had broken my fingernail," he says. "But both times my surgeon, Steve Bollen, did a fantastic job. I have to thank him. I wouldn't say the experience drives me on but I do appreciate and enjoy the small things a lot more; when you've been out for months you relish training every day."
Although Meyler made a cameo appearance at the end of the 2010-11 campaign, concerns about his knee restricted him to a handful of first-team outings until Bruce's successor, Martin O'Neill, loaned him to then Championship side Hull in November 2012, with the transfer made permanent two months later.
"Steve Bruce said: 'Meyler, I want you to come and be part of this, trust me, I'll get this side promoted,'" says the Ireland midfielder originally transported to Sunderland from his home-town club, Cork City, by Roy Keane. "And he did it … which just shows what a great manager he is."
Bruce feared impending heartbreak when television replays suggested the Football Association should punish Meyler for stamping on Manchester United's Adnan Januzaj during Hull's defeat at Old Trafford last week but the referee, Craig Pawson, had seen the incident and no retrospective action was possible.
"Of course there was a worry I'd miss the final," concedes Meyler who spent a long, "anxious" day waiting for the FA to assess Pawson's report. "But it was accidental. It was clumsy. He's a fantastic player, it was the 90th minute, I was tired and he was just too quick for me. My leg's in the air, he's got the ball and as I'm planting my foot to push off I've ended up standing on him. Fortunately, the referee's seen it wasn't malicious."
Alan Pardew presumably ranked among those hoping Meyler avoided a most untimely suspension in the wake of the player's restrained reaction to his imbecilic touchline head-butt during Newcastle's win at the KC in early March.
Many players might have collapsed in the face of the visiting manager's idiocy but Meyler stayed on his feet, minimising Pardew's problems by calmly standing his ground. "What good would I have done my team, if I'd reacted," he reasons. "In my eyes it was a minor incident."
In contrast, Saturday at Wembley is a very big deal for a man once told he might never walk properly again. "I don't know about fate," says Meyler. "But I believe we're going to win the FA Cup."