Saturday 23 June 2018

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Miller on Cork minds as rivalry placed to one side

Cork City’s Gearóid Morrissey takes extra care in the snowy conditions as he gathers possession under pressure from Dundalk’s Jamie McGrath during the President’s Cup match at Oriel Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Cork City’s Gearóid Morrissey takes extra care in the snowy conditions as he gathers possession under pressure from Dundalk’s Jamie McGrath during the President’s Cup match at Oriel Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It was a football weekend dominated by tributes to Liam Miller.

Home and abroad. Scotland, England and Australia. A reflection of the 36-year-old's varied football life and the range of people he encountered, a flavour of the stories that will be shared ahead of his final journey today.

Liam Miller was foremost in the thoughts of Cork City manager John Caulfield, who brought him to the club in 2015. Photo: Sportsfile
Liam Miller was foremost in the thoughts of Cork City manager John Caulfield, who brought him to the club in 2015. Photo: Sportsfile

Miller was foremost in John Caulfield's thoughts after his Cork City side came back from two goals down to claim the President's Cup with a win at Oriel Park.

It was a result that continued their excellent recent record against Dundalk, yet there was a different feeling around this occasion compared to previous battles. The rivalry has never felt so unimportant.

Any chat about old grievances, the war of words that played out after Cork's double-winning 2017, would have been completely incongruous.

Acrimony

Cork 'keeper Mark McNulty, a central figure in recent acrimony between the respective camps, and a sparky character that tends to enliven these type of affairs, did not travel because he is grieving the loss of a childhood pal and very close friend.

McNulty was with Miller when he passed away, and has spoken of the 'two toughest days of his life'.

He would have appreciated the impeccably observed minute's silence before the game and the round of applause in the 22nd minute - the shirt number Miller wore in his season with City in 2015.

His final game for the Leesiders was the 2015 FAI Cup final. Football changes quickly, particularly so in Ireland. Only two members of yesterday's Cork squad were involved in that game - Alan Bennett and Karl Sheppard.

But Caulfield pointed to his backroom staff afterwards, all the other people in the Cork camp who remember Miller with affection and will come together today to pay their respects.

"We get wound up at times about football but the reality is your health is everything," he said. "It's an extremely tragic situation and obviously some of the people around our club were very close to him, particularly Mark McNulty.

"The most important now is the funeral, to give Liam the tribute he deserves. Nothing will ease it for his family. But it's just important that the club and people of Cork come out in force to show their respects for him and give him a proper send-off.

"The memories within the team would be fond memories because he was a very popular guy. He was shy but within the group, he was quite witty.

"To be fair a lot of players who came in are new to the team and wouldn't have known Liam that well. I got to know him because I was the manager three years ago and would have known him from the outside.

"He was a lovely person. Humble and never gloated. The heights he got to with United and Ireland, he would never speak about it unless you asked him and even then he was very shy about it."

There was never any question of McNulty travelling.

"He's his closest friend," Caulfield continued. "It hasn't been easy because we've known Liam was sick for a long time, but particularly the last ten days.

"It's been difficult for some of the guys, obviously Mark would be one of the closest guys to him and he would have stayed up with him some of the nights while he was in Marymount (Hospice).

"Some of the other lads (staff) - John Cotter, Colin Healy, the Ballincollig lads, Liam would have played with them. And then you'd have some of the boys like Alan Bennett who played with him.

"He was so young - 37 on Tuesday. It's terrible for his family, his wife, parents, brothers and sisters. But his own kids, how do you justify it. Kory, Leo and Belle - they are 13, 11, 10. It's hard to put it into words."

Bennett found it difficult to do just that. He is just eight months younger than Miller.

"It puts a different look on everything," he said. "On sport. On how you look at your life. On how you think about future and plan stuff. It's guaranteed to nobody, it absolutely isn't.

Fittest

"He was a young man, the fittest player I've probably come across and then just gets struck down. It was five months from when he got diagnosed to when he passed away. That's how quickly your life can change. Everything, from rivalries, to sport, everything is put in perspective.

"It's brutal sad. He was such a good guy. So humble, really funny. You'd meet him and you wouldn't even think he had airs and graces. Nothing like that. A real gentleman."

The football show will have to go on, eventually, but normal activity is suspended today. The League of Ireland season has been put back 24 hours.

A huge turn-out of Miller's former colleagues is expected for the funeral, and you can be sure old friends will talk about football matters between the silences. Small talk.

That's what sport does for people. It's a reference point that unites, a distraction from the more important things in life.

This weekend has hammered that point home.

Irish Independent

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