"We did forty press conferences last year and the crowd was never as big as this," said John Caulfield with a grin at Cork’s International Airport Hotel yesterday, as a big media contingent turned up to greet Liam Miller on his official touchdown for Cork City.
The 32-year-old former Irish international and midfielder with Celtic, Manchester United and Sunderland spent the most recent years of his career playing with considerable success in Australia but, with his globetrotting at an end, he made it clear yesterday that he was never going to be able to resist the pull of his hometown club.
“To be honest with you, Cork was my preference over any other team,” he said. “Cork were the first club I spoke to and it was straightforward. Asia was an option but for family reasons and stuff like that, it was a very easy decision to come home.“I didn’t think I would be out there (in Australia) for as long but I enjoyed every minute of it. It was a great experience but, at the same time, this was the perfect time for me and the family to come back. I have my family and friends here. I have three kids. It was what I wanted. Australia was something different and fresh and everything else but to return home from Australia was always on the agenda. And when I say home, I mean Cork.”
Sitting beside his latest signing, City boss Caulfield suggested that it is never difficult to sell Cork City to a footballer from Cork, an observation with which Miller readily concurred.
“I can relate to it totally,” he said. “I’m a Cork lad and if I was going to play for any club in the country, why wouldn’t it be Cork? It’s probably a pride thing as well: I’m very proud to be from Cork.”
Having remained tight with old Ballincollig team mates Mark McNulty and Colin Healy, Miller said that he was able to keep close tabs Down Under on Cork’s thrilling title bid last season.
“Mark is a good friend of mine and he was on the phone every second week saying he was M.O.M,” smiled Miller. “So yeah, I was well clued up on what went on. They had a great season and only fell short at the final hurdle.
“I wouldn’t say there’s pressure on us (to go one better) but there’s a real hunger from the boys, and the pain of last year, if you like, can be used to kick us on again this year.”
Miller insists he has “no regrets” about the trajectory of his career, though he’s aware that there are many who feel he made a premature decision in leaving Martin O’Neill’s Celtic for Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, a move which subsequently saw the highly rated midfielder fail to put down enduring roots at Old Trafford.
“Looking back I knew obviously the players that were there — Keane and Scholes in the middle,” he conceded. “They’re world class players but I wanted to give it a go. I felt at the time I was good enough and I was confident.
“I probably played in a position I was unfamiliar with (at United). I played a lot on the right wing which wasn’t great for me back then but I certainly learned over the course of the two years I was there. I suppose you turn a negative into a positive and I took a lot out of it.”
Later in his career he would, of course, reunite with Roy Keane when the latter was manager at Sunderland, but that relationship ended unhappily when Keane, alleging that the player was repeatedly late for training, opted to let him go.
Yesterday, however, Miller declined to bite when that particular bait was dangled. “I have not read the book,” he said flatly. “I won’t speak about that. I haven’t spoken to the man since I left Sunderland.”
That downbeat note apart, it was all positive stuff from the player and his new manager, Miller insisting that he has no intention of treating the SSE Airtricity League as a retirement home, while Caulfield flagged the signing of the 21-times capped Irish international as a significant coup, not just for Cork City, but for the league as a whole.
“I’m passionate about the League of Ireland,” Caulfield declared, “and I see a guy like Brian Lenihan and see the opportunity he has got with Hull. It’s great the pathway is there.
“Then you see guys like Liam coming home, and Colin Healy, Keith Fahey and Stephen McPhail, who still have a lot to offer. And that is brilliant for us. The guys who go, we should be the first to shake their hand.
“Some, like Patsy Freyne and Dave Barry, never went over but were fantastic League of Ireland players. From my point of view, Cork was a positive story last year. We just have to hope it is positive again this year.”
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