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'Scotland's loss is Northern Ireland's gain': Tommy Wright backs wonderkids Ali McCann and Matty Kennedy to become international stars


Northern Ireland's Matthew Kennedy

Northern Ireland's Matthew Kennedy

Northern Ireland's Matthew Kennedy

'Scotland's loss is Northern Ireland's gain', declares former Northern Ireland goalkeeper Tommy Wright about Ali McCann and Matty Kennedy.

Edinburgh-born McCann made his international debut for Northern Ireland last week and proved a revelation in the middle of the park against Austria and Romania.

The 20-year-old St Johnstone midfielder previously represented Scotland at underage level, but is eligible for Northern Ireland through his Portadown-born father.

Kennedy is another player who made the switch from Scotland to Northern Ireland, impressing on his senior debut in the 1-1 draw against Romania.

Wright, who resigned from his position as manager of the Saints in May after seven successful seasons, gave McCann his debut at McDiarmid Park and also signed Kennedy for the Perth club.

"I gave Ali his debut at 17," said Wright. "Then he went on loan to Stranraer for three months because he needed first-team football and he benefited greatly from that.

"He came back from that loan spell and he was competing with Kyle McClean for a place in the first team.

"He had a great pre-season and that moved him ahead of Kyle, he got into the team and he has been there ever since, I think I only ever rested him for one game last season.

"He's a great lad to work with, has loads of ability, can play defensively or as a box-to-box midfielder and he is comfortable on the ball with both feet.

"I never had any doubts he would play first team football. He got his chance against Celtic, a game in which they beat us 7-0. We were 4-0 down and I wasn't happy, so I said to him 'go and make your mark on the game'.

"We lost the second half as well, but he made a difference, he has progressed more and he will go even further in the game in my opinion.

"From a personal point of view, I was glad we were able to push him towards Northern Ireland, although push is the wrong term as I think he wanted to play for Northern Ireland.

"Scotland's loss is Northern Ireland's gain."

Kennedy took a more circuitous route to senior international football aged 26, but settled at St Johnstone and came to the notice of Michael O'Neill.

"I convinced Matty Kennedy to play for St Johnstone. Michael was already in contact with his agent after he played for Scotland's Under-19s and Under-21s, but it took a long time to sort out.

"Matty maybe lost his way a little, he had a series of loan moves so he didn't really have a home in which to develop.

"I was pleased to get him on a free transfer and pleased to work with him, but I knew after six months that we would struggle to hold on to him.

"The club didn't offer him a new contract and sold him to Aberdeen in January. He fully deserved his move.

"He is naturally a winger who can come inside, his right foot is probably strongest, but we saw the quality of his left foot with his crossing on Wednesday night.

"The squad will always develop. Daniel Ballard has done very well, Jordan Thompson and Ali have done well, Matty and Gavin Whyte have also shown what they can offer.

"There's a sprinkling of talent coming in. The squad is in a decent place and there's a lot to be optimistic about."

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