In 1997, Billy and Bridie Miller made the difficult decision to say goodbye to their 15-year-old son Liam, who left Ovens having caught the eye of football scouts across the Irish Sea.
More than 20 years later, those same parents had no choice but to say goodbye to Liam once again, who had gone from the Old Firm to Old Trafford, Australia to America, and home again to his parish church where he was baptised, confirmed, and yesterday eulogised.
Since the news broke of the death of Liam Miller on Friday night, the sporting world paid its respects to the rising Celtic star, the Manchester United midfielder, the Cork City lynchpin, the Ireland international.
Many familiar faces from his footballing past came to Ovens to mourn Liam yesterday — Martin O’Neill, who managed him at Celtic; fellow Corkmen Roy Keane and Denis Irwin; former Ireland teammates John O’Shea, Aiden McGeady, and Kevin Doyle; a host of past and present Cork City players, and their manager John Caulfield.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and President Michael D Higgins were represented by aides de camp.
FAI chief executive John Delaney was in attendance, as were former Ireland managers Brian Kerr and Steve Staunton.
But yesterday was about Liam the son, the father, the devoted family man and friend, taken from those who loved him at far too young an age.
“To those who knew Liam best, Liam’s legacy won’t be about anything he achieved on a football pitch, though on that he achieved what was, to most of us, an impossible fantasy,” his brother-in-law Dan Sheedy told the hundreds of mourners who packed St John the Baptist Church in Ovens, Co Cork.
“Liam was that most rare of things — he lived his dreams. He dreamed of playing for Billy’s beloved Celtic. And he did. He dreamed of playing for Man United. And he did. And he dreamed of playing for Ireland. And he did.”
However, the church heard that those who knew Liam knew him as a father and husband.
“Football is not how we are going to remember Liam,” Dan said, praising the “fierce determination” with which he fought his illness.
“His motivation to survive wasn’t for him. Liam’s motivation, as it has always been, was for others and specifically for his family. Liam wanted to survive for his family. They are all that mattered to him.”
Among the gifts brought to the altar during the Mass were football jerseys from his time at Manchester United, Celtic, and the national team, along with rosary beads and photos of his family, and his First Holy Communion.
Fr Liam Ó hIci, parish priest at Ovens, read the words to the Celtic anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.
Amongst the sadness in the Requiem Mass were moments of levity too, as Liam’s timekeeping was referenced in the tributes from the altar.
Willie McStay, who signed Liam as a teenager for Celtic, recalled how a beleaguered roommate, worried that they would miss a team meeting having slept in late, found the Corkman taking the time to fix his hair in the bathroom mirror.
“If you’re going to get a bollocking, you might as well look good,” McStay recalled Liam telling his teammate.
McStay said the Millers will always remain part of the Celtic family.
“I will always remember that wee boy who would never give the ball away and could run all day. His upright and elegant style, a boy who loved to play football, a boy who loved the game.
“Liam, rest in peace. You’ll never walk alone,” he said.
At the end of the Mass, Snow Patrol’s ‘Chasing Cars’ — a song chosen by Liam’s wife Clare — played as loved ones carried Liam to his final resting place in the cemetery at the back of the church.
The hundreds in attendance filed out behind Liam’s family and his three children as they made the short trip from the church to the grave.
For Kory, Leo and Belle, time and age will not help understand how ill health could claim their young, fit, father — mourners many times their tender years still shook their heads in disbelief at the injustice of it all.
But in time, the tributes, pictures and videos will help them remember a man who realised the dreams of many in too short a life.
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