Thursday 19 July 2018

Liam Miller lived the dream in an era when the road to Premier League stardom became so hard to navigate

Liam Miller should be remembered as a great achiever after playing for Celtic and Manchester United
Liam Miller should be remembered as a great achiever after playing for Celtic and Manchester United
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

In an era when so few Irishmen have plotted a route to the world's biggest clubs, Liam Miller lived a dream that serves as a proud legacy.

As news that he had lost his battle with cancer at the tragically young age of 36 broke on Friday night, the tributes poured in for a footballer who ticked more boxes than most Irishmen in the last quarter of a century.

Not too many from this island finished their playing career having turned out for Celtic, Manchester United and the Republic of Ireland over the course of the last quarter of a century, yet Miller was one of the few players who shattered the glass ceiling by making it on to the grandest stages of the game.

This boy from Cork who set out on a dream to play for the biggest clubs in the world and to represent his country in the actually made it, even though he admits to doubting himself so often during his career.

"Since I was a young lad, I've always loved playing football, but I never thought the dream would come through until I was 14 or 15 when I went over to Celtic and it started to a happen," he said in a web chat with his pal John O'Shea back in 2007, with his humble nature never affected by the stardom that came his way.

"All I ever wanted to do was play football at whatever level. Then the opportunities started to come up for me with clubs in Scotland and England and it went from there."

Read more: Former Ireland international Liam Miller has died aged 36

It was current Ireland boss Martin O'Neill who honed the talents of a young Miller in his formative days at Celtic and despite offers of a new contract to stay with the Glasgow club, the chance to make a move to join Alex Ferguson's Manchester United after just 26 league appearances for Celtic was too tempting to ignore.

Naturally, Miller was hailed as the next big thing in Irish soccer as he strutted his stuff in the Champions League with Celtic and moved on to Manchester, but he did not have the impact he would have hoped for in a star-studded United first team.

"When I left Celtic for United, I knew the players that were there," said Miller in an interview with the Irish Independent back in 2015.

"Roy Keane and Paul Scholes in the middle. They're world-class players. But I wanted to give it a go, I felt at the time I was good enough, whether that was (true), I don't know.

"You don't have a crystal ball to see how things like that are going to work out, but t was a great environment to be around. Training every day, learning from some of the players there.

"I still look back on it as a tremendous experience, but I did think I would be playing a bigger part. I played more on the right wing than I ever had in my career. It was not a role I enjoyed and by the end I wasn't playing, so I decided to leave."

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Former room-mate Stephen Elliott paid an emotional tribute to his pal on Twitter

During a successful loan spell with Leeds and in stints with Sunderland - where he was reunited with Roy Keane the manager - QPR, Hibernian and latterly during spells in Australian soccer, the polite and respected Miller showed flashes of the natural talents he began to polish as a young kid back at Coachford College in Cork.

All that before he returned home to play for Cork City in 2015, realising an ambition he had long harboured.

"It was an easy decision," he said at the time. "My friends are here. My family. I have three kids. It is what I wanted. It is the right time for me. I want my family to see me play here. It's probably a pride thing as well. I'm very proud to be from Cork."

For a fit young man who had so much of his life still in front of him to be taken away from his family and friends is such cruel fashion is a tragedy that touches all of us who love the game and Liam should be remembered as an achiever who rubbed shoulders with the great and good of world football and did it all with a dignified class.

The final word has to go to Miller, who summed up his career like this an an interview with Bleacher Report in 2016.

"I have no regrets from my career," he stated. "There have been highlights. My Ireland debut. My debut for Celtic. My first game for Manchester United.

"I grew up supporting Celtic and Man United and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to play for those two clubs. When you go to a club like Manchester United - one of the top three clubs in the world - it doesn’t really get much bigger.

"I played at Parkhead and Old Trafford in big games and not many people get to do that, so I have to be proud of what I achieved."

Well said Liam, well said. RIP.

Online Editors

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