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At four Liam was such a super little player his dad called him Stanley after the great Stanley Matthews; EXCLUSIVE: RISE OF CELTIC MAESTRO MILLER.

Byline: ANN MOONEY

THE soccer-mad Miller brothers had to cope with frustration as soon as the baby of the family was big enough to kick a ball.

By the time he was four, little Liam could beat them every time in the kick-arounds in their back garden.

Nothing grew there because the lads had flattened everything with their endless games.

And Liam was the wonder of the cabbage patch long before he became a Celtic midfield star.

His Scottish father Billy, an ardent Celtic fan, was so impressed he nicknamed him Stanley after the legendary Sir Stanley Matthews.

The terrier-like player, now 22, was so strong he could outrun his older brothers Sean, Robbie and Martin to put the ball into the back of their home-made net.

His mum Bridie recalled there was no soccer club near their home in Kilcrea, County Cork, so they all played hurling and football with Eire Og.

And while all the lads - Sean, 30, Robbie, 27, and Martin, 25, - showed real talent, Liam proved to be an all-rounder with his many Athletic achievements.

He was also captain of his school GAA team and was selected for trials with Cork minors.

But it was soccer that was to prove Liam's real passion despite the lack of real resources.

Bridie said: "His dad knew he had talent. He is a big Celtic fan so obviously it is a great source of pride for him that Liam is playing for Celtic."

When Liam was 13 he joined Ballincollig AC where his first coach, the late Anthony McCarthy, recognised his exceptional skills.

And after he was coached by his local coaches Mick McNulty and Miah Murphy, Liam knew at the age of 15 that soccer was going to be his life.

Bridie recalled that after many trials for Ireland, he was selected for the national squad and was a member of the team which won the U-16 European Championship under the guidance of Brian Kerr.

Bridie said: "I suppose you could say that Liam was one of Brian Kerr's babies. By the time he was 15 he was determined to play soccer.

"He kept pestering me and I decided I would never want to stand in his way. I felt if that was what he wanted to do then he should do it."

Liam's big break came when he joined the junior soccer coaching scheme under Mick Conroy who was quick to spot him.

Mick contacted Willie McStay in Celtic's Youth Scheme and Liam got a trial with the club.

While he was on trial, Liam captained Celtic to victory in the Foyle Cup competition in Derry.

He has been with the Glasgow side since he was 16 and his parents felt it was the ideal club for him as they look after younger players.

Bridie added: "I was very upset at him leaving home so young, but when we went over to Celtic and met Willie McStay I knew it was the right move for him.

"Liam comes home whenever he can and he has kept in contact with his friends in Cork. We also travel over to him regularly. We are all very proud of him.

"Liam was into every sport and was a great all-rounder. No matter what he played he was good at it.

"He has medals and trophies for everything from U-10 athletics when he won his first All-Ireland medal for ball throwing in the Community Games. He ran in sprint and long distance races and was a real flyer.

The whole family became sporting enthusiasts. Bridie said: We were always involved with the kids and their sport activities. I was always travelling to sporting events with one or other of them.

"I did not mind doing it, in fact, I enjoyed it. And when they are involved in sports, you know they are not getting into trouble.

"It was the same when Liam became involved in soccer and again we travelled all over the place to different matches and trials.

"It was a very exciting time for him and us. Every member of the family including our only daughter Suzanne, 19, is pleased Liam is doing what he really loves."

Liam's now settled in Celtic and Parkhead is his home away from home.

Bridie explained: "He enjoys being with Celtic. He has been with them for so long and from an early age, the club is his second family.

"He has been with Brian Kerr since the early days and he has great respect for him.

"He is also proud to play for Ireland, even though his dad is Scottish. "

CAPTION(S):

JUST CHAMPION: U-16 Euro winners Liam Miller, Dave Madden and Dave Warren; CAN HE KICK IT: Aged four in Cork; A BHOY WONDER; Liam Miller has now become a terrace favourite at Paradise; EARLY HONOURS: Captain Liam collects a GAA trophy for his school football team; MENTOR: With late Anthony McCarthy; ON TRACK: An U-10 athletics victory; DRIBBLER: Liam at nine months
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 1, 2003
Words:832
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