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Dublin: 10 °C Tuesday 23 October, 2018
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Football legends pay tribute to the late Liam Miller at a packed Páirc Uí Chaoimh

The former Celtic, Manchester United and Ireland midfielder was remembered today in his hometown.

Man United player/manager for the day, Roy Keane, and Ireland's Andy Reid.
Man United player/manager for the day, Roy Keane, and Ireland's Andy Reid.

Republic of Ireland & Celtic Legends 2
Manchester United Legends 2

(United win 3-2 on penalties)

Paul Dollery reports from Páirc Uí Chaoimh

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS SINCE he won a Sciath na Scol medal here with Ovens National School, the biggest crowd ever to watch a soccer match in Cork turned out at Páirc Uí Chaoimh to pay tribute to the late Liam Miller.

Securing the use of the refurbished GAA venue for this game wasn’t a straightforward process. However, as Cork’s most impressive sporting arena, it was only fitting that it was called upon to host an occasion in honour of one of the county’s greatest sportsmen.

The tickets purchased by the 42,878 in attendance, as well as the money that’ll be brought in at this evening’s gala dinner at Cork City Hall, will raise a significant sum to support the family of Liam Miller, who passed away earlier this year.

Among those left to grieve his death were wife Clare, sons Kory and Leo, and daughter Belle. Several charities, including Marymount Hospice — where Liam Miller lost his battle with cancer in February — will also benefit from the events.

Clare Miller Liam Miller's wife Clare at the game. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

After the players had been led out by Liam Miller’s children, a team of Manchester United legends played out a 2-2 draw against a line-up of Celtic and Republic of Ireland counterparts. Dion Dublin’s penalty won it for United in the shootout that followed.

Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane were some of the many big names who came together to remember their former team-mate.

As current Ireland manager Martin O’Neill pointed out, “the turn-out shows the sort of esteem Liam Miller is held in” — although a few of the players may have got more than they bargained for when laying eyes for the first time on the vastness of the pitch.

Celtic and Republic of Ireland Legends v Manchester United Legends - Liam Miller Tribute Match - Pairc Ui Chaoimh The players line out to remember Miller before kick-off. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

“Some of the lads had to be lowered into the dressing rooms. They’re a little portly at this stage,” joked O’Neill. 

It took just shy of 20 minutes for the first goal in a soccer match at Páirc Uí Chaoimh to be scored. When it arrived, it was only appropriate that it came via the only Corkman to start the game. Nicky Butt was fouled by Johan Mjallby and, to rapturous applause, Denis Irwin marched forward to take the penalty.

It was a moment to savour for Irwin, who was an underage GAA star with Cork and the famous St Finbarr’s club before his talents earned him a living in professional soccer in England. The Togher lad sent David Forde the wrong way to give United the lead.

Celtic and Republic of Ireland Legends v Manchester United Legends - Liam Miller Tribute Match - Pairc Ui Chaoimh Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Louis Saha congratulate Irwin after his penalty. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

United’s advantage was doubled on 26 minutes when a long ball from Giggs released Louis Saha, with the French striker applying a tidy finish. A couple of minutes before the break, Robbie Keane cut in from the left and drilled the ball past United goalkeeper Kevin Pilkington to leave a goal between the teams at half-time.

At that point, goalposts more familiar to this stage were erected, as spectators were entertained by exhibition matches featuring underage hurling, camogie and Gaelic football players from Éire Óg. That was the club Liam Miller represented with distinction before pursuing sporting success in a different code in the UK.

Celtic and Republic of Ireland Legends v Manchester United Legends - Liam Miller Tribute Match - Pairc Ui Chaoimh Robbie Keane is hugged by Kevin Kilbane with Stiliyan Petrov (right) and Gary Neville (left) also close by. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

The loudest cheer of the afternoon came just after the hour mark. Cork City goalkeeper Mark McNulty, a childhood friend of Liam Miller’s, entered the fray for United to a warm reception, but the roar that greeted Roy Keane’s introduction could probably be heard from across the River Lee in his home parish of Mayfield.

Having both played for Manchester United, Celtic and the Republic of Ireland, Keane and Liam Miller had plenty in common. In representing his country and playing and scoring in the Champions League, he lived the dreams of so many.

The equalising goal came with 10 minutes remaining and again there was local significance in the scorer. Duff’s cross from the right was flicked on by Kevin Doyle, before the ball was fired home by Colin Healy, who played in the same Ballincollig AFC underage teams as Liam Miller before the pair were snapped up by Celtic.

A view of the crowd at the game A packed Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

After the game ended level, a penalty shootout was held to determine a winner. McNulty saved efforts from Robbie Keane and Ian Harte, while Andy Reid’s attempt would ordinarily have raised a white flag from an umpire at this venue. Roy Keane and Nicky Butt saw their kicks stopped by David Forde.

As Dion Dublin stepped up to the final penalty, the teams were tied at 2 apiece: Kevin Doyle and Shaun Maloney scoring for Ireland/Celtic, David May and Louis Saha finding the net for United. Dublin made no mistake to give the men in red the bragging rights over dinner this evening.

For Liam Miller’s family, 2018 will forever be defined by tragedy. But for one day at least, instead of lamenting an unbearable loss, they could afford to enjoy a reminder that their father, husband, brother and son was also a local hero whose talents earned him respect and admiration internationally.

Celtic and Republic of Ireland Legends v Manchester United Legends - Liam Miller Tribute Match - Pairc Ui Chaoimh John O'Shea and Dion Dublin celebrate the winning spot-kick. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

A message from the family in the match programme read: “The last eight months have not been easy for us. There are no words to describe the sadness and heartbreak we have endured since losing Liam.

“What has helped get us through this difficult time has been the outpouring of support and heartfelt concern shown to us by truly amazing, compassionate and kind-hearted people.

“We will always be thankful and indebted to those special people who made this huge undertaking happen. All over the country, Liam’s tribute event has been supported on a scale which is difficult to comprehend.

“That is especially so in his home town and county of Cork. The fact that this memorable event is held in his home place, which was so special to him, makes this day all the more special to us. 

“Once again we thank everyone involved in this extra special day for their time and energy for making it a success and a day we will remember for a very long time. We are filled with gratitude and feel truly blessed.” 

Republic of Ireland & Celtic Legends: David Forde; Stephen Carr (Stephen Kelly, HT), Richard Dunne (Kenny Cunningham, HT), Johan Mjallby (Stephen McManus, 27) (Shaun Maloney, 79), Ian Harte (Stephen McPhail, HT); Damien Duff (Colin Healy, RT), Paul Lambert (Andy Reid, HT), Stiliyan Petrov (Graham Kavanagh, HT), Kevin Kilbane (Tosh McKinlay, HT) (Damien Duff, 72); Shaun Maloney (Kevin Doyle, HT), Robbie Keane.

Manchester United Legends: Kevin Pilkington (Mark McNulty, 61); Gary Neville (Michael Clegg, HT), John O’Shea, Wes Brown, Mikael Silvestre, Denis Irwin (David May, HT); Paul Scholes (Louis Saha, 70), Nicky Butt (Quinton Fortune, 61), Ryan Giggs (Roy Keane, 61); Alan Smith (Nicky Butt, 81), Louis Saha (Dion Dublin, HT).

Referee: Graham Kelly.

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About the author:

Paul Dollery

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