Hopes rising Liam Miller match can go ahead at 45,000 capacity Páirc Uí Chaoimh

Organisers of tribute game welcome GAA’s offer to meet but stress venue change not agreed at this stage

Organisers of the Liam Miller tribute match have welcomed the GAA's announcement that it is willing to meet with them to discuss the proposed staging of the game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

The former Ireland international soccer player died from oesophageal cancer aged 36 this year, and the aim of the game is to raise funds for his family.

The tribute match will see a Manchester United Legends XI managed by Roy Keane and featuring players like Ryan Giggs, Denis Irwin, Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand take on a Glasgow Celtic/Republic of Ireland selection featuring players like Robbie Keane, Damian Duff, Kenny Cunningham and Kevin Kilbane.

Developer Michael O'Flynn, a neighbour of the late Mr Miller in Ovens and chairman of the organising committee, said he was heartened by the news that GAA President John Horan and Director General Tom Ryan were willing to meet the committee.

“I very much welcome the suggestion from GAA HQ that they would meet with us - obviously I am very keen to explore the opportunity to perhaps stage this benefit game for Liam’s family in Páirc Uí Chaoimh but this meeting is just the first step on the road to that end,” he said.

“I suppose I should also take the opportunity to say that reports on social media tweets on Saturday night which were picked up by some media outlets that the game is going ahead in Páirc Uí Chaoimh are not correct - we are simply meeting people from GAA HQ at this stage.”

Mr O’Flynn said he was looking forward to hearing from GAA HQ but he stressed no arrangements have been made yet as to when they would meet to discuss the game.

Tickets for the game on September 25th between a Manchester United Legends XI and a Celtic/Republic of Ireland XI at the 7,300-capacity Turner’s Cross in Cork sold out within minutes of going on sale on Friday.

Amid calls for the higher-capacity Páirc Uí Chaoimh to host the benefit match instead, the GAA on Friday night said it was prohibited under its rules from hosting games other than those under its control in its stadiums and grounds and this could only be changed by GAA Congress in February.

However, on Saturday night, a tweet from the organisation's official account stated: "The GAA President and Ard Stiúrthóir, along with representatives of the Cork Committee, are to seek a meeting with the organising committee of the Liam Miller Tribute Match to discuss issues around the game."

The GAA's announcement was also welcomed by Bishop of Cork and Ross, Dr John Buckley, himself a keen Cork GAA supporter, who said that he hoped a resolution would be reached to allow the match go ahead at the €80 million redeveloped Páirc Uí Chaoimh, which has a capacity of 45,000.

“I am delighted that talks are going to be held between the GAA and the organisers of the Testimonial Match for Liam Miller - the Testimonial Match is an event worth of support and many Cork people would like to attend,” he said.

Bishop Buckley, whose diocese includes the parish of Ovens where Liam Miller grew up, noted that the former Glasgow Celtic, Manchester United and Republic of Ireland midfielder had played Gaelic football with local club, Éire Óg, and he hoped a way could be found to resolve the issue.

It is understood that the decision by the GAA to organise the meeting follows a lot of behind activity behind the scenes by some senior Government figures including Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Cork Fine Gael Senator, Jerry Buttimer as well as Fianna Fail leader, Micheál Martin.

Earlier, Mr Martin tweeted that the GAA and Páirc Uí Chaoimh were rooted in and supported by the community to which Mr Miller and his family belonged. "The unique event organised to reflect that community ethos and to honour Liam Miller should be held in Páirc Uí Chaoimh," he tweeted.

Meanwhile, Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Mick Finn who is hosting a banquet as part of the tribute, said the fact that tickets for the game sold out within 60 seconds on Friday morning indicated just how the people of Cork and beyond had responded to the idea of the benefit match.

He said that the GAA rightly had rules governing the making available of grounds to other sports in which it might be competition but the Liam Miller game was about honouring a Cork sportsman who had brought honour to his city and county and it did not contravene GAA rules.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times