THE phone call is one David Meyler will never forget.
Nineteen and out shopping in his home city of Cork, the midfielder had recently turned professional in the League of Ireland but the move he really craved was to England.
So, as he answered his mobile and the voice on the other end of the line identified herself as Roy Keane’s secretary at Sunderland, Meyler realised that chance had arrived.
“I’ll never forget it,” said the 24-year-old Republic of Ireland international ahead of today’s return to the Stadium of Light in the colours of Hull City.
“I got a phonecall off a lady who used to be Roy Keane’s secretary.
“She said, ‘The manager would like you to come over and it is a one-way ticket’. The rest is history, I suppose.”
Meyler went on to spend four and a half years on Wearside and only two serious knee injuries prevented him from adding to the 31 appearances he made for the Black Cats.
He retains a strong affection for the North East club despite leaving for Hull in November, 2012, and can often be seen in the stands at Sunderland games.
Today, however, is different with Meyler heading to the Stadium of Light intent on playing his part in a Tigers victory.
“We need to win,” he said. “I have had my dad in my ear all week saying it is just another game. It will be emotional because I spent so long there, but I am not looking at it in that sense.
“I don’t think there’s any greater emphasis just because it’s Sunderland. Every three points is just as valuable.
“But there is no doubt I am going there as a Hull City footballer and going for a win.”
Sunderland are enjoying something of a revival under Gus Poyet with a place at next month’s Capital One Cup final having already been booked courtesy of a penalty shoot-out victory at Manchester United.
The club’s league form is also vastly improved, with last week’s stunning 3-0 derby win at Newcastle United lifting the Black Cats up to 14th and level on points with Hull.
When the two sides met at the KC Stadium in November the Tigers prevailed 1-0 thanks to an own goal from Carlos Cuellar.
Meyler started that game and was the subject of a shocking foul by Andrea Dossena that saw Sunderland reduced to nine men for the entire second half, Lee Cattermole having been dismissed a couple of minutes earlier for a rash tackle on Ahmed Elmohamady.
Ahead of today’s return fixture, Meyler said: “I am excited. I am looking forward to it but, in many ways, it is just another game and an opportunity for us to pick up three points.
“A new manager has come in for them with fresh ideas and he has looked to put his spin on things.
“They had a terrific win against Newcastle, which is massive for them up there, so they will be coming in with a rich vein of form.
“But we have just got to do our thing. Look at the players we have here; I don’t think too many of them (Sunderland) would push to be in our starting XI with the talent we have got. It will be tough, but I am hopeful we can get the three points.”
Injury may have wrecked much of Meyler’s stint on Wearside, but there is no doubting the affection he still holds for the city and its people.
“Sunderland are a special club,” he said. “I remember walking into the changing room (on his first day) and there was Dwight Yorke. The manager was Roy Keane, too, someone I had grown up watching.
“Luckily enough I had broken into full-time training with Cork City and had a glimpse, but when you go over there the fitness regime is totally different. It was certainly a challenge but also one I loved.
“Making my debut was a big thing. It was against Blackburn away.
“Niall Quinn (then chairman) had actually rung my father and said ‘David’s starting tomorrow’. I had no idea.
“I had come through a fantastic reserve team with Jordan Henderson, Jack Colback, Martyn Waghorn. A couple of them were on the bench and then in a team meeting when the team was put up they were nudging me saying, ‘Jeez, you’re starting’.
“My mum, dad and sister all knew but I didn’t. That was the highlight.
“The other big thing I took from Sunderland was the life experience. It is a lot harder than people tend to realise when you are in Ireland trying to get to England to play professional football.
“Getting across is just the first step on the ladder and then it is a whole new world.
“I was always a mummy’s boy. My mum did everything for me. She cooked, she cleaned and she did my homework for me when I was in school.
“But then you grow up on your own in England and it is sink or swim. I matured in the sense I had to grow up. I have made mistakes while I have been in England, but I learn from them.
“I will never forget coming over and staying in a hotel because my dad left me a note saying this was all I had ever dreamed of, that you only get one chance in life, and he didn’t want to see me back in Cork in three years wondering what might have been. That was it for me.
“The injuries came as a blow. But while out, I used to go and watch games. I would drive on my own and sit in the away end with the fans. That is what they are all about up there. Passion and heart, which is what I always try to give.
“It is an old cliche but you die for the cause. That is the way I am. Whether I am training or playing on the Xbox, I give it everything I have to win. People up there probably appreciate that.”
Meyler may look back fondly on his time with Sunderland, but there is no doubt where his loyalties lie ahead of today’s Premier League meeting.
He said: “Winning promotion here last season was probably the highlight of my career.
“I am very grateful because Sunderland gave me the opportunity to come to England and to further my career. But that brought me to Hull City, to Ireland caps and to regular football in the Premier League. That’s every kid’s dream.”