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Tommy Wright gets shot to make it big in Scotland with St Johnstone

By Stuart McKinley

So St Johnstone have decided that Mr Wright is their, well, Mr Right. Four days after his close friend Steve Lomas left the Perth club for Millwall, Tommy Wright has stepped up from his role as assistant manager to become the boss.

He's not the first to have made such a move, he certainly won't be the last, but Wright's appointment is following something of a trend when it comes to Ulstermen at Scottish Premier League clubs.

And it's not just the local connection that makes him similar to Celtic boss Neil Lennon and Kenny Shiels of Kilmarnock.

Being in the right place at the right time is crucial in football and in the case of Lennon, Shiels and now Wright their timing couldn't have been better.

Three times now in just over three years Northern Ireland men have been in just the right place when a managerial vacancy has arisen in Scotland's top flight.

Lennon was reserve team manager at Celtic when Tony Mowbray was sacked in March 2012. When the rest of the first-team staff went with him the club turned to their former captain to take the reins for the remainder of the season.

The Lurgan man has done so well that he's still there – and with three seasons under his belt he is now one of the longest serving managers at the club in the last 25 years.

Kenny Shiels was at Kilmarnock a similar length of time. First as assistant boss to Mixu Paatelainen before the Finn headed off to be manager of his country's international team 12 months later.

Wright has stepped out of his former international team-mate's shadow to become the main man, meaning that a third of the managers in the SPL are Irish.

In the space of 10 years the 49-year-old former Linfield, Newcastle United, Nottingham Forest and Manchester City goalkeeper has gone from managing lowly Limavady United on a weekly wage budget of less than £900 a week for his entire squad to the Scottish Premier League – via Ballymena United, a stints at both Norwich City and Shamrock Rovers as goalkeeping coach and Lisburn Distillery.

And he has a hard act to follow, with Lennon and Shiels blazing a trail for the Northern Ireland managers by winning trophies in their first full season in charge at SPL level.

Lennon won the Scottish Cup a year after taking charge before going on to claim back-to-back Scottish League titles, with a double in the season just finished.

Last season, however, the Scottish League Cup final battle between the two Ulster-born bosses finished with Shiels on the winning side as Kilmarnock lifted silverware for the first time in 15 years.

If Wright guides St Johnstone to silverware it would be even more historic. The club has never won a senior honour in its 129 years in existence.

Wright admits that without serving under Lomas since November 2011 he probably wouldn't have got the St Johnstone job.

"I would have been ready, but I don't think they would have come looking to the Irish League for me," he said.

"I am better equipped now that I have been here for two-and-a-half years.

"Kenny Shiels made the step up from the Irish League and Sam Allardyce had a spell at Limerick before he went onto the Premier League.

"This is a step up for me and I've got a lucky break in that Steve has left and I've stepped in, but you work hard in the hope that when an opportunity comes up that you've done well enough to be considered for it."

That was the case with Fenlon, for whom success in Ireland was enough to win him a shot in the Scottish game – remember Wright guided Distillery to a first senior trophy in 17 years when they beat favourites Portadown to win the Co-operative Insurance Cup in 2010.

Fenlon's impressive record of winning league titles with both Shelbourne and Bohemians always looked likely to lead him to a higher level. Dundee United had wanted him in the autumn of 2010, but couldn't agree a compensation package with Bohs.

Hibernian came up with the money a year later and he has guided them to back-to-back Scottish Cup finals since.

As a Linfield favourite during his playing days he already shares something in common with Wright.

Add in St Mirren boss Danny Lennon, who played in four B internationals for Northern Ireland due to his Ulster-born grandmother and the Irish flavour in Scottish dugouts becomes even stronger.

But why do Scottish clubs all of a sudden want Irish managers? It is simple a case of these guys being in the right place at the right time?

Well, that has played a part, but you have to possess a bit more that good timing to get a job at SPL level.

Some have suggested Irishmen are a cheap option, but in the case of Lennon and Shiels they've brought success, so it's not just a case of saving money and settling for mediocrity.

The Irish and Scots, celtic cousins, have always looked out for one another.

In the 1990s the trend was for Scottish players to come to Northern Ireland, many looking just to make a fast buck before heading back to Caledonia with their bulging wallets.

The current liking for Irish managers is much more than a passing phase though. And it's not even a case of Scottish chairmen hoping someone will do for them what Martin O'Neill did at Celtic – ie sweep the board domestically and take them to a European final.

Fenlon, Lennon and Shiels each moved their clubs forward and if Wright can do the same that will be deemed success.

Belfast Telegraph


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