Belfast Telegraph

Bright young managers have led by example

By Graham Luney

Football is all about the players, they say. They are the entertainers who give us goals, drama and excitement.

The problem is that they need to be guided and nurtured and that's the job of the manager – the most important person at a football club.

Managers also crave success and some of them can achieve a slice of greatness they never could have imagined as a player.

There are many bright young bosses in the game and we have a few in Northern Ireland too.

Gary Hamilton (33) and Glenn Ferguson (44) are winning admirers with their tactical nous and motivational skills at Glenavon and Ballymena United.

And we cannot disregard the remarkable achievements of outgoing Linfield boss David Jeffrey – 17-and-a-half years at the Blues and 31 trophies won.

Meanwhile, Tommy Breslin is on the brink of guiding Cliftonville to back-to-back league titles for the first time in the club's history.

Why shouldn't these guys aspire to be even better managers on an even bigger stage?

Do we have any bosses from Ulster who are showcasing their talent across the water? You bet!

The biggest success story at the moment is a man whose name is being chanted on the Kop at Anfield.

Could Carnlough man Brendan Rodgers be joining the folklore of Liverpool managers: Shankly, Paisley, Fagan, Benitez, Dalglish? If he can end what is currently a 24-year wait for a league title, the former Ballymena United prospect will take his place in the pantheon of Liverpool managers.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, former Glenavon youngster Neil Lennon continues to unlock the trophy cabinet at Parkhead.

After winning five titles as a player with the Hoops, the Lurgan man has masterminded three Premier League championships on the spin as a manager, along with two Scottish Cups.

But he won't be lifting the Scottish Cup this season. That responsibility may fall to his former Northern Ireland team-mate Tommy Wright, who dipped his toes into managerial waters for the first time with Limavady United in 2003.

His managerial career took him to Ballymena United and Lisburn Distillery as well as a goalkeeping coaching role at Shamrock Rovers. While the Whites were experiencing turbulence in the Premiership in 2011, Wright left Ballyskeagh to link up with Steve Lomas at Scottish Premier club St Johnstone.

After Lomas left the Saints to manage Millwall last year, the 50-year-old accepted the top job and guided the club to the third round of the Europa League qualifying stages for the first time.

Ironically, Wright was linked with a move back to Linfield after Jeffrey announced his decision to step down at Windsor but the former Newcastle United stopper still has big goals at Fir Park.

He has guided St Johnstone to their first Scottish Cup final in the club's 130-year history when they will be up against Dundee United at Celtic Park on May 17.

Wright and Lenny continue to sparkle in Scotland and Tommy – like the rest of us – acknowledges the strength of character and resolve Neil has needed to show both as a player and manager following horrendous abuse and death threats.

Another one of our coaches in Scotland, Kenny Shiels, is manager of Scottish Championship club Greenock Morton after a spell at Kilmarnock that included Scottish League Cup success in 2012. The former Ballymena United and Coleraine boss joined Tranmere Rovers in May 2007 as their head of youth development before securing an assistant manager role at Kilmarnock in 2010.

Doors can open for our young managers and if men like Hamilton and Ferguson can derive some encouragement and inspiration from the achievements of Rodgers, Lennon, Wright and Shiels, then their careers could follow a similar path.

Belfast Telegraph

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