Richard Barrett reporting live from Páirc Uí Chaoimh
The pubs were packed, the stadium was full, and it was ‘standing room only’ at the press conference. A whole host of footballing stars were ready to grace the turf.
It seemed just like any big football match.
Except it wasn’t.
It was 3 pm on a Tuesday, it was football being played on a GAA pitch, and it was a match organised to celebrate the memory of one of Cork’s footballing sons. Even the stoic Roy Keane was smiling.
The thing about cancer is that it tears families apart, but its horrendous nature also brings them closer together. Cancer took Liam Miller from his wife and kids, but the footballing world came together on an Autumn Tuesday in Cork in a show of support for the former Republic of Ireland international’s family.
The atmosphere was electric, and it was an incredible moment to witness.
Except it wasn’t.
“A wonderful young lad, with humility and manners admired by myself and the club,” espoused Sir Alex Ferguson in the programme notes.
“Loyal, incredibly kind, and selfless, who put all he loved before himself, even more so during the last few months of his life.” Graham Barrett, a close friend of the Cork midfielder.
The football on the field was pedestrian at best, the cobwebs proving more difficult to shake off than ever before. Particularly for Gary Neville, whose every touch was booed jokingly by the Liverpool fans in the crowd.
Scholesy still controlled the midfield, Kevin Kilbane was still his energetic self, marauding up and down the wing, and Denis Irwin still knew how to tuck away a penalty.
Thirteen minutes into the game and the crowd broke into a chorus of ‘Olé, Olé, Olé’. It was just like the old days.
Except it wasn’t.
Half-time and goals for Denis Irwin, Louis Saha and Robbie Keane, meant one would be forgiven for thinking they were stuck in a time warp. The sight of David May’s belly, however, suggested otherwise.
42,878 people. Fans of all teams, united in their affection for the former Celtic and Manchester United footballer.
The stadium rose to its feet when Liam Miller’s family walked onto the pitch. A fitting and emotional tribute, on a bittersweet day.
Football has the ability to build us up, cancer the ability to break us down. Liam Miller’s life was sadly a tale of both.
If we learned anything from this historic exhibition of football, held in a GAA stadium, attended by almost 43,000 people, it’s not that Paul Scholes still tackles late, or that Roy Keane is as competitive ever.
Nor is it that Robbie Keane will still do absolutely everything he can to score a goal.
No, what this historic event in Páirc Uí Chaoimh has taught us is that at the end of the day, football is just football. The performances on the pitch were a sideshow for the real narrative emanating from the ‘Liam Miller Tribute’; another healthy young person taken from us by this horrible disease.
It has to stop at some point, and only by coming together can we truly give ourselves a chance of beating cancer. The people of Cork came together for Liam and his family today, but also for those suffering throughout Ireland.
The United in red wowed the crowds, but it is the united show of support from all in attendance that should be remembered for years to come.
“Liam, we miss you and love you. Thank you for being such a good friend.” – Graham Barrett.
You can show your support for Liam’s family by donating at supportliammiller.com.