Ex-PNE man tips Bailey to start

Bailey Wright celebrates scoring with team-mate Joe Garner (top)
Bailey Wright celebrates scoring with team-mate Joe Garner (top)
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Former Preston North End striker Mike Conroy believes Bailey Wright has every chance of being in the starting XI for Australia’s World Cup opener.

The Socceroos begin their Group B campaign in Brazil a week on Friday against Chile at the Arena Pantanal, in Cuiba.

And Conroy, who starred for North End in the early 1990s but now lives Down Under after emigrating in 1999, can speak with authority when discussing the Aussies’ prospects this summer.

Wright, who learned of his inclusion in the Socceroos’ 23-man squad earlier this week, has yet to make his full international debut.

But Conroy is convinced the experience he has gained playing for Preston this season could tip the balance in his favour in head coach Ange Postecoglou’s thinking.

Unlike previous years when the Aussies have had top-class talent such as Mark Schwarzer, Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka to call upon, the current squad has a very inexperienced look.

Only former Everton star Tim Cahill’s name stands out, with Postecoglou opting to select several players from the Australian A-League.

Along with the Chileans, Australia also face two daunting group stage matches against Netherlands and current world champions Spain.

“It makes a change going into this World Cup,” Conroy told the Evening Post.

“Usually heading into past World Cups, all everybody over here talks about is how good they are going to be.

“You know what the Aussies are like – whether its football, cricket or rugby – but it’s a been bit quiet and low-key this time.

“The Socceroos are taking a lot of inexperienced players to Brazil and I think everybody kind of understands that it’s a very young squad and so they are not expecting too much.

“In fact they are taking bets on how many goals they are going to concede when they come up against Spain.

“The coach has picked a lot of players from the A-League, which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing but with respect, what you find overseas is better than the A-League.

“Bailey’s been playing at a very good standard in England for Preston. The Championship and League One are very good standards of football. I’d say he is playing at one of the highest levels out of all the squad.

“I know Postecoglou likes to play out from the back, so if Bailey is comfortable on the ball but is a strong tackler and is good in the air, then he’s got every chance of playing against the Chileans.

“I hope he gets a chance and what a chance he’s got – to play against the best in the world at such a young age.”

Although Scotsman Conroy and Victorian Wright grew up worlds apart and in different generations, their lives have crossed similar paths.

Both have worn the 
North End shirt with distinction and Conroy now currently 
lives in the same part of the world that Wright originally hails from near Melbourne.

In fact Conroy, who works for a large Japanese golf equipment manufacturer, first met Wright, who played for Australia Under-17s, in the local adidas retail store in Melbourne.

“Bailey is actually from not far from where I live,” Conroy said. “I’ve known about him since he was around 16 or 17-years-old.

“I actually met him in the adidas shop in Melbourne. I was in there due to my work on the golf side and Bailey happened to be there at the same time picking some gear up.

“I recognised him, went up to him and introduced myself.

“I’ll be honest – I had never seen him play but I’d heard he came highly recommended.

“I just told him that I had a friend who was in the football agency business. My friend was in partnership with another friend of mine – Dave McPherson – the former Rangers player, back in Scotland.

“I passed Bailey’s name on to both of them but Bailey obviously decided to go down a different pathway, which was a bit of a shame.

“I had just been told that he was a good young player and I could see just by talking to him that he was very keen to go overseas.

“He’s obviously gone to Preston – one of my old clubs – and is doing very well for himself that’s for sure.”

Conroy enjoyed two seasons at Deepdale – famously scoring the winner against derby rivals Blackpool in 1992.

He also enjoyed spells at Reading, Burnley, Fulham and Blackpool before heading to Australia where he turned out for Carlton and Eastern 

After hanging up his boots, he became coach of Melbourne-based outfit Doncaster Rovers and settled into the Australian way of life with his wife Sarah and two daughters Meaghan and Maya.

He is currently coaching youngsters at Glen Waverley Junior Soccer Club.