Beau Miller – The measure of the man

Proud as punch! Debbie and Peter Miller with son Beau after his 2007 Norm Walker Medal win.

In recent weeks we’ve taken a look back at league best and fairest winners from years gone by, with names like Gil Savory, John Martello, Paul Alger, Joe Lenders, Billy Morrison, Rob Porter, Daryl Young and Lincoln Withers thrilling football spectators over the years. But the list simply wouldn’t feel complete without taking a look back at the career of the late, great, Beau Miller…

It’s sad to reflect on, but very easy to celebrate, the life of Beau Miller – the tough, resilient, determined and uncompromising midfielder who had a massive impact in a life cut way too short at age 34 on 14 July, 2016.

As a footballer Miller’s legacy will stand the test of time with both the Devon Meadows and Tooradin-Dalmore football clubs paying respect to their past champion with awards named in his honour.

The Beau Miller Most Determined Award has become a sought-after prize at Devon Meadows since its inception in 2016, while the Beau Miller Medal is awarded to the senior best and fairest winner at Tooradin-Dalmore.

Beau Miller’s football credentials speak for themselves.

A star junior who tasted multiple premiership success at the Devon Meadows Junior Football Club, Miller made the move to Tooradin-Dalmore through his middle teenage years before returning to Glover Reserve in 1999.

That year he’s extraordinary passion and dedication to his football would see him claim the MPNFL Peninsula Division Under-18 League Best and Fairest Award.

He would spend two years in the VFL with Springvale Scorpions before returning to community football to play for Tooradin-Dalmore and Pakenham, before completing the full circle of his football journey with a final three years at Devon Meadows.

Two Norm Walker Medals – awarded to the best and fairest player in the then Casey Cardinia Football League (CCFL) – a league MVP, five selections in the CCFL Team of the Year, one as captain, and the honour of representing Vic Country at the Australian Country Football Championships in Wagga Wagga in 2012 speak volumes of Beau Miller the footballer.

But what made him tick, what made him such an inspiration and a person who had such an impact in such a relatively short space of time?

Beau Shane Miller was born at the Mordialloc Hospital on 26 July, 1981, a young brother for Matt and Luke, a third son for Debbie and Peter Miller.

“We lived in Parkdale in a tiny house on a very small block of land, so when Beau was 16 months old we decided the house was too small to raise three active boys so it was time to move on,” Debbie explained.

“Within weeks we found a two-and-a-half-acre block in Cannons Creek.

“It was perfect, a quiet community and a place where the boys could be boys. In November 1982 we moved to Cannons Creek and started building a new home.”

During the build, Debbie, Pete, Matt, Luke and Beau lived in a 12-foot caravan and annex. Matt and Luke lived in relative luxury in the caravan while Debbie, Pete and Beau toughed it out in the annex.

“To this day Pete and I believe this was when Beau built his resilience and toughness, he never even got a cold, and sometimes we’d be walking around with dew on his cot blankets…it got pretty cold in there,” Debbie remembers.

Beau’s first school days were spent in Tooradin – at pre-school and primary school – before heading to Kooweerup High and completing a one-year accelerated training course in Tool and Die Making at Richmond Trade School…where he won Apprentice of the Year.

While at Tooradin Primary School he struck up a friendship with Barry Parsons, the current president of the Devon Meadows Football Netball Club.

“I was in grade prep, Beau was a year older than me and we met on the school bus that we both caught from Cannons Creek,” Parsons recalled.

“The Miller family had a pool and I got invited over after school one day and the friendship started from there.

“Every day after school we hung out, we were the Cannons Creek bikie group, about half a dozen kids who would terrorise the town on our pushbikes,” Parsons said with a chuckle.

“After school, weekends, we’d ride around, go over jumps, head down the beach; it was a great lifestyle back then. The Miller’s had two-and-a-half acres so we had plenty of room to do what kids did back in those days.”

The Miller family has always been an active bunch with Debbie and Peter keen gym-goers – Debbie was an aerobics instructor – while Matt played football and Luke was keen on motocross, snowboarding and surfing.

Beau also had a healthy appetite for sport and played basketball, cricket, indoor football and mixed netball, and dabbled in karate and motocross as well.

Debbie and Pete’s love for the gym would filter through to Beau, who became famous for his 5am gym sessions before work each day.

The family also enjoyed a good holiday, with camping and skiing on the Murray an early favourite before the boys grew fond of trips to Bali and Thailand.

As a footballer, even from a young age, Beau was always up for a challenge, evident in his first week at primary school.

He had no interest in staying in the safe confines of the ‘prep area’, instead building a connection with the grade six kids who were happy to have a kick of the footy with him.

He was also gaining a great education from his brother Matt, who taught Beau to kick left and right foot on the family football ground which took pride of place on their home patch of turf.

Beau began junior football at Devon Meadows at the age of eight, winning a club best and fairest award in his second year at the club.

The young Collingwood supporter would play a key role in back-to-back premierships in 1991 and ’92…where he won the best on ground medal in the grand final.

“Even back then he was a gun and you could tell he was something special,” Parsons recalls.

“Matty worked hard with him to improve his skills, but he was already a good player and also a great athlete. He was always winning the running races at school and that type of thing.

“We had a very successful junior group at Devon Meadows and Beau was a big part of that success.”

Beau then changed clubs and spent four years at Tooradin-Dalmore – from 1995 to ’98 – and would win the best finals player in the under 17’s in the last two of those four years.

He would then return to Devon Meadows for his under-18 year in 1999 and poll 20 votes to win the first of his three league awards – the George Gilmour Medal.

Miller played senior football at Devon Meadows for three years, finishing third in the club best and fairest in 2002, before joining Parsons and future Panthers’ legend Jesse Dehey at the Springvale Scorpions in 2003.

He would have an immediate impact at the VFL club, being 22 when announced as the club’s best first-year player.

“In his first game we were playing at Princes Park in the reserves, Beau played a half a game in the twos and they took him off and said ‘you’re playing in the seniors with us’, he totally dominated,” Parsons said.

“That was unheard of back then, to not do an apprenticeship in the twos…but they saw something special in him and he never played a game in the twos after that.”

In his VFL debut he had the job of shutting down Tasmanian star Ian Callinan, who later played for Adelaide in the AFL, and three rounds later he put the clamps on Werribee’s Western Bulldogs player Nathan Eagleton.

Miller would have a second year at Springvale before returning to Tooradin in 2005 under then coach Dan O’Loughlin.

As a young player he looked up to Greg Bethune, and aspired to be a respected senior player like him, and had the highest respect for O’Loughlin and his leadership qualities.

And he loved playing with Scott Weekley…they were like two warriors always looking forward to the next battle.

A broken wrist and knee-ligament damage would curtail his influence in 2005, and affect his 2006 campaign as well, a year that ended with a health scare that would put his football journey at risk.

“Towards the end of 2006 Beau’s vision in his left eye was blurring, he mentioned it to us and we told him to see an optometrist because he probably needed glasses,” Peter said.

“We never expected what the diagnosis would be.”

The optometrist referred Beau to the Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne where a specialist diagnosed a one-centimetre Ocular Melanoma tumour in his left eye.

Beau had a radioactive seed implanted in the eye and over time the tumour decreased to the point where he and his new girlfriend, and future wife, Steph could live their life to the fullest after meeting earlier in 2006.

Miller’s signature quality – determination – would be put to the test in 2007 when he began a new phase of his football…playing with vision in just one eye!

With something to prove, he would immerse himself in the challenge, showing incredible courage and resilience to win the 2007 Norm Walker Medal.

Miller received five votes in the last two rounds, against ROC and Berwick, to poll 26 votes and win by six from Doveton rover Michael Henry, with Pakenham’s Jared Goldsack a vote further back in third.

Miller was the toast of the football world, also being named in the centre in the 2007 CCFL Team of the Year (TOTY).

“I came along tonight with the (Tooradin) boys for a beer and just to be together,” he said humbly after the count.

“When the vote was on, I was surprised that I was right up there, but it’s great and I’m really stoked.

“A lot of things were put back into perspective (in 2006) and this award means a fair bit to me.

“It makes you appreciate the small things that happen much more. Football meant so much more to me this year just because I was able to get out there and play. It was like I was 21 again.”

Beau’s brother Luke said the family was super proud of his resilience that year.

“He never let on how blind he was in one eye because he didn’t want opponents to know of his disadvantage,” Luke explained.

“We were thrilled for him knowing the challenges he faced adapting to playing with his disability. His pushed on mentally and physically, having lost complete vision of his left eye, to play the best football of his career.”

Miller would then follow O’Loughlin to Pakenham for an unsuccessful tilt at the 2008 premiership, the same year that Beau and Luke would purchase the family business, manufacturing moulds for the automotive industry.

“I am proud to say we never once fought and Beau took his work as seriously as did his football…he was a great employer and team leader,” Luke said

From 2009, when he returned to Tooradin, through to 2012, Miller played the most consistent football of his career, finishing no lower than sixth in the league medal and earning four starting midfield positions in the CCFL TOTY.

He would finish sixth in the medal to Beaconsfield’s Robbie Taylor in 2009, and was centre and vice-captain in the TOTY. He was runner-up to Henry in 2010, the year he was centre and captain of the TOTY and Tooradin’s best and fairest winner.

Beau then took over the Tooradin senior coaching role from Chad Liddell in 2011, claiming his second Norm Walker Medal and being named rover in the TOTY.

Miller would win by three votes from Beaconsfield’s Daniel Mislicki, with Cranbourne star Justin Berry three votes further back in third.

“It’s definitely a shock; I just came along to enjoy the night with the guys,” Miller said.

“My objective was to coach the team to the best ability that I could and to play well at the same time was a bonus.

“My family is involved with the club. It’s a real family environment down there. My girlfriend (Steph) watches every game with my son (Chase) – it’s fantastic.”

Beau also had a great affinity and respect for Anzac Day and in 2011 would win the first of two Anzac Day medals for best on ground. These were particularly important to Beau as he put his head down and bum up to play in memory of his grandfather Freddie.

Miller would have a great year, both personally and football related in 2012, with he and Steph starting off on the right note by tying the knot at Red Hill on February 8 that year.

Miller would finish second to Cranbourne champion Marc Holt in the Norm Walker Medal and win the league MVP Award.

He played interleague for the CCFL team that defeated the Nepean league by 11 points at Berwick and would earn selection in the Vic Country team for the Australian Country Football Championships at Wagga Wagga.

Beau developed such a reputation that he became a VCFL selector in 2014 and ’15, a role he cherished, mentoring and working with talented footballers from across the state.

But possibly the biggest thrill for Miller in 2012 – aside from marrying Steph – was the rapid rise of the Seagulls who would emerge from the pack to challenge perennial powerhouses Cranbourne and Narre Warren.

With Miller, Matt Wade, Ryan White, Scott Szucs and Michael Hobbs patrolling the midfield, Rohan Hyde having a TOTY season in the ruck, Adam Galea magnificent in defence, and new recruit Julian Suarez kicking 66 goals for the season, the Seagulls would make it to the preliminary final under coach Tom Hallinan.

Miller would stay at Westernport Oval in 2013 before making an emotional return to Devon Meadows in 2014.

Starting 2015 as a 33-year-old, he was still a gun finishing runner up in the club best and fairest.

He was appointed vice-captain of the Panthers for the 2016 season before a downturn in his health, for a second time, would bring his magnificent career, and sadly his life, to a premature end.

On May 4, 2016, Beau was diagnosed with stage-four melanoma, meaning the cancer had metastasized and spread through his body.

A glimmer of hope was provided when Beau was one of only five people in the world chosen to undergo a new drug trial as treatment.

His treatment began at Cabrini Hospital, where Steph takes up the story.

“Beau and I created a Facebook page to add journals to and to provide updates of his progress for people to read,” she said.

“He was very hesitant at first because he didn’t want it all about him, but it stopped us from having to answer well-meaning messages and allowed us to focus on our road ahead.

“Beau and I would walk around the gardens of Cabrini and one day there was blue sky, the birds were chirping and the wind was blowing through the trees…he turned and said to me, ‘Can you smell the air?’

“Those are things that everyone takes for granted.

“Beau said, ‘If I get the chance to get better, I’ll appreciate all of those simple things in life a lot more.”

Despite the treatment, Beau’s cancer would spread rapidly and, after a brave 10-week fight, he lost his battle on July 14, 2016.

But not before he used his characteristic determination and strength to create one final lasting memory for him and his young family. His eldest son Chase was five, and youngest son Tripp just five months old at the time.

“In those 10 weeks of his brave but short battle, he was always positive and never complained once…never did he say ‘why me’,” Steph explained.

“He summoned all of his strength and determination to sit at our dinner table one last time…just us and our boys.

“He played cars with Chase, making car noises and crashing them about, cracking jokes, following Chase around the house with his walker.

“Even to the end he was thinking about others and that’s just the type of man he was.”

One of Beau’s last great passions, from 2013 to ’15, was being heavily involved in the design and build of the families dream home, which he was determined to finish before the arrival of Tripp in November 2015.

Beau was a busy man but still managed to find the time to do all the things that he loved and took much pleasure in landscaping their home. Just as he did with his football – everything was done with the finest of detail…attention personified!

Steph remembers a champion footballer who was totally dedicated to his craft.

“Beau’s dedication before and after the game was next level,” she said.

“He would have ice baths whenever he pulled up sore and Sunday morning was sleep-in day for most families, but not ours.

“Beau would be off to Frankston beach for Sunday recovery and his discipline showed each week in his performance come game day.”

Another of Beau’s life-long friends, Tooradin-Dalmore coach Lachie Gillespie had the unenviable task of preparing his players for an away clash against Doveton, just two days after Beau’s death.

Discipline, mental strength, sacrifice, respect, physical strength, mateship and honesty – they’re the qualities that Gillespie had pinned to the wall as he started his pre-game address.

“They’re the things that make Beau what he was, that’s his legacy,” Gillespie began.

“You’ve got to understand, he was a champion, but he wasn’t a champion because of what he did on the footy field and how many goals he kicked or how many best and fairests he won.

“That’s not what it’s about; it’s not what makes you a champion and it’s not what makes people remember you. These are the things that count,” Gillepsie said, pointing at his whiteboard.

Delving a little deeper it’s seems that mateship is the thing that people remember most about Beau Miller – even above his outstanding football ability.

Parsons, now a confident and well-spoken individual, said Miller’s positivity had a huge impact on his life.

“Not just in football, but in life in general, he made you stand taller,” Parsons began.

“People don’t believe me now, but I was always shy and Beau always challenged me to be a better person and be more outgoing and have more confidence.

“Confidence is amazing, the things it can make happen, and he was a big part in getting me to understand that, in football and life in general.

“He was so inclusive and always trying to make the people around him better.

“He was super dedicated and very competitive in everything he did.”

Beau’s mate Ben Disney also remembers that famous Miller competitive streak.

“During one season at Tooradin Beau and I would have five shots at goal from different angles after training on a Thursday night,” Disney recalls.

“The loser would shout the other a meal during team selections and it’s fair to say I ate pretty well that year (laughs). That’s the only time I’ve ever kicked so straight.

“And we would quite often go out for a friendly game of tennis…but there was no such thing.”

Gillespie summed up the feeling of people who knew Beau well, shortly after his death.

“It’s just shattering that someone you love and respect so much is gone, and gone far too soon,” Gillespie said at the time.

“He was a champion, not with the handballs and kicks that he got but a champion person which is far more important.

“He had the drive to work harder than anyone else to get the best out of himself but combined that with a real down-to-earth attitude.

“It’s a pretty unique balance and one that made him such a champion human being.

“We went through a lot together and I’m lucky enough to have called him a friend.”

And the final words go to Steph and his amazingly generous family, who have opened their hearts – become vulnerable – to allow Beau’s story to be told.

“From the moment I met Beau I knew he was something special,” Steph said.

“I was always so proud of being his girlfriend and then becoming his wife – I was always so proud to be his partner.

“I was proud that when he spoke to any person, male or female, he really paid attention to what they were saying and genuinely cared about their conversation.

“He had respect for everyone and I was proud that everything he did he did whole-heartedly.

“He was a wonderful husband, a loving father, the hardest worker and an exceptional footballer.

“He always thrived to be better and that made me always want to be better.

“Together we had a motto, ‘there’s no point crying over spilt milk’, so together we could try and do anything.

“Beau’s positivity only made me want to be more like him and that’s something he’ll pass onto his boys, Chase and Tripp.

“Beau was the bravest, courageous, determined, skilled, handsome man who loved his family and friends more than anything.”

Debbie and Peter Miller are so proud of their youngest son and the message he leaves behind.

“Beau wanted everyone to be mindful of having annual heath-checks, no matter how fit or healthy you are, because he was so connected to his own body and had no idea until it was too late,” Debbie said.

“Our family has been overwhelmed to have the tributes that flowed for Beau after his death.

“Presenting a medal inscribed with Beau’s image and the words – courage, respect, discipline, determination and dedication – to the best and fairest winner is a huge honour, and the Devon Meadows award allows the player who wins to decide if he wants to wear Beau’s number-31 guernsey the following year.

“It’s just incredible that we’re surrounded by such an amazing community that honour Beau in a way where his legacy can live on…none of us expected that.

“We would like for Beau to be remembered as person who achieved so much in his short life…a life well lived and a person who loved every minute of every day.”

Beau and Steph’s boys, Chase, 10, and Tripp five, are now following in their father’s footsteps, both thoroughly enjoying their sport, much to the pleasure of their grandparents.

“Chase is playing football and basketball and reminds us of Beau in so many ways…the similarities are uncanny,” Debbie explains.

“And Tripp is playing soccer and also reminds us of Beau, kicking with both feet and learning off his older brother just as Beau did when he was younger.

“They always have a ball in their hands and absolutely love their football.”

Their dad – Beau Miller – also loved his football and built a reputation that will last as long as football is played at the Devon Meadows and Tooradin-Dalmore football clubs.

His reputation was built on respect, that he had for others, and that others had for him, and is the reason why – above all of his football achievements – he will never be forgotten.

It’s been sad to reflect on, but very easy to celebrate…the life of Beau Shane Miller.