FORMER Joeys star Bailey Wright could make his 100th appearance for English club Preston North End by the end of the current season.
The 21-year-old defender was under the spotlight last weekend as fourth-placed North End travelled to Brisbane Road to face league leader Leyton Orient.
The home team was the only unbeaten outfit in League One and had scored in its 15 previous league games this season.
The clash was the biggest club game in England due to the international break and all eyes were on the young Aussie in his 73rd appearance to see whether Wright and his teammates could maintain their promotion momentum.
“Obviously every game is an important one but this meant that bit more with Orient being top of the league and us needing to reduce the gap,” said Wright.
“We knew if we could get a result there it would be a great confidence booster and hopefully take us to another level.”
In the 32nd minute North End striker Joe Garner struck a superb first-time volley that gave the visitors a lead they never relinquished.
Orient put Preston under pressure towards the end of the game and a pivotal moment in the second half came when Wright timed a last-ditch tackle to perfection to deny Orient striker David Mooney.
“Don’t really remember it too much because things happen so quick in football. I was just doing my job,” said Wright.
“The ball was there to be won so I just slid in and won it.”
Preston ran out a deserved 1-0 winner and Wright was universally lauded for his performance.
Among many onlookers singing his praises was Rob Langham from independent Football League blog The Two Unfortunates.
“(Preston’s midfield) solidity was matched at the back by Australian Bailey Wright, just 21, and developing into one of the division’s best central defenders. That’s due to his mobility – he’s an athletic presence with a great leap and an energetic attitude to competition that belies his years,” wrote Langham.
Now into his fifth season at Deepdale, Wright has seen five managers at the helm and four periods under caretakers.
Despite the turmoil off the field Wright’s professional development has continued at a steady pace with his current gaffer Simon Grayson making the youngster a first-team mainstay and the No 6 hasn’t let him down.
But it could have been so much different if not for an injury during a trial in 2008 with a rival Lancashire club.
Wright’s junior days in Victoria were with Langwarrin and Mornington and he also played with Dandenong Thunder’s reserves.
He captained the Victorian Under-14 and Under-15 Metro sides at national championships and accepted a scholarship to the Victorian Institute of Sport in 2006.
The introduction of the Australian Institute of Sport team into the Victorian Premier League in 2007 also heralded the entry of Wright and his VIS teammates into that league’s reserves competition and the following year was to be a landmark one in his development.
He played in the Joeys squad that made it to the finals of the Asian Football Confederation Under-16 championships held in Uzbekistan and also headed to England to trial with Preston and Blackburn Rovers.
The twist to his tale is that he only trained with Preston for a day before heading to Ewood Park where injury ruined his chances of being signed.
Nevertheless Preston liked what it had seen and offered him a two-year scholarship which he accepted and he arrived at Deepdale in late June 2009.
“Seems like a while ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was buzzing that Preston had offered me something.
“Looking back now I’m so glad it happened that way and I would never have thought I’d be into my fifth season at the club.”
Already Wright has been linked with clubs in higher leagues, notably English Premier League outfit West Bromwich Albion which showed interest in him last season.
His versatility is a strong point as he can take up any position in the defensive structure.
“These days you have to be versatile and although most people know I am right footed, for me playing on the left has always been something I wanted to get better at,” said Wright.
“If you can become better on your weaker foot then you can play both right side and left side centre half, or even right back and left back. I would say I’m probably better on the right side but I enjoy playing on the left.”
Two other Aussies are on Preston’s books, Shane Cansdell-Sheriff currently on a three-month loan deal at Burton Albion, and Socceroo midfielder Neil Kilkenny, who joined on loan from Bristol City last week and made his Preston debut as a second-half sub against Orient.
Wright is champing at the bit to be back in national team reckoning but he’s had minimal contact from Australian authorities since his days with the Joeys.
“I would hope that if I have a good season with Preston and the team has a good season that it would increase my chances of getting noticed,” said Wright.
“We’ve got Neil Kilkenny on loan and he’s played for Australia a good few times so hopefully that helps to get noticed and our games will be watched.”
While Wright’s star shines brightly at club level with the defender taking out Preston’s Young Player of the Year award last season it’s the bright lights of Rio and Brazil 2014 that hold a magical allure.
There’s no telling if he’s in Ange Postecoglou’s thoughts but if Wright does receive a call from the new Socceroo supremo it would link him once more with what many believe is his destiny, a green and gold strip.