The conveyor belt of young talent coming through at St Johnstone shows no signs of grinding to a halt, according to Perth boss Tommy Wright.
And in Ali McCann, the emerging players at McDiarmid Park have the perfect role model for grabbing your chance when it comes.
The next batch of potential Premiership players have enjoyed varying degrees of success on loan this season.
But the most important thing isn’t their back story before Wright throws them a jersey for the Saints first team, it’s the performances they produce after they get it.
And McCann’s courageous and composed display in an opening day thrashing by Celtic is the shining example of that.
“Jordan Northcott didn’t get out on loan as much,” said Wright. “And John Robertson unfortunately came back from Cove Rangers, a striker who really has an eye for goal.
“There is Olly Hamilton who has done well at a struggling side in Brechin. Cammy Ballantyne has done well at Montrose.
“And below that, young centre-half Sam Denham is only 17. There are others too.
“Things change so quickly in football for young players. You might look at one at Christmas and think it will be touch and go whether he gets a contract.
“Then all of a sudden they blossom and improve rapidly. You can put Ali McCann into that category.
“He has grasped his opportunity and made sure he is a first team regular. That is what the other ones have got to do.”
Even when Saints were winning a cup and regularly qualifying for Europe, the one stick that critics used to beat the manager with was an alleged aversion to giving young players a break.
It was a myth then and the last couple of seasons have reinforced that.
“There are a lot of perceptions in football,” he said. “One was that I was not interested in young players and that St Johnstone don’t play them.
“That is a lot of rubbish. You need to be good enough to get in the team and it does not matter if you are 18 or 38.
“What we have done should give all the young players the encouragement to make sure they give everything every day in training.
“If they develop and listen, opportunities will come.”
The club’s decision to set up a youth development fund for their academy, which supporters can donate to during the coronavirus in the knowledge that the money will be ring-fenced, has gone down very well with the fanbase.
Ensuring that home-grown players keep finding their way into the first team squad is a priority that will become even more important in a post-lockdown football world which may well be unrecognisable from the pre-lockdown one.
Saints certainly have a strong platform to build on.
“Players have come through different age groups at the club and some haven’t been developed at the academy from the age of 10,” said Wright.
“But as youngsters we have had Zander Clark, Liam Gordon, Jason Kerr, Ali McCann, Callum Hendry, Stevie May, Chris Kane and Jordan Northcott. There’s eight already.
“They have all come at different stages. But you name me another club that has eight, with the majority being first team starters.”
The seven Saints academy players who have become first team hits –
Stevie May – A local lad who progressed all the way through the different age-groups. Derek McInnes gave him his debut in 2009, aged just 16. Subsequent highly successful loan spells at Alloa and Hamilton followed and he was given his chance by Tommy Wright, becoming an instant fans’ favourite thanks to his goal against Rosenborg. In his second stint at the club, he has been looking like the Stevie May of old.
Zander Clark – The goalkeeper was brought into the academy from Hamilton Accies as a 16-year-old and made an instant impact, helping Saints’ under-17s win a league title in 2008/09. Loans at Elgin City and Queen of the South (where he was part of the Dumfries side that reached the promotion play-offs) furthered his football education and, after deputising for Alan Mannus, then sharing first team duties with the Northern Irishman, Clark established himself as Wright’s number one.
Jason Kerr – Like May and Clark, Kerr has reaped the rewards of loan football. He was snapped up from Tynecastle Boys Club as a central midfielder. After being converted into a centre-back, he won a League Two title at East Fife and then stepped up to the Championship with Queen of the South. The Scotland under-21 international has been a first team regular since playing against Albion Rovers in the Scottish Cup in January 2018. He is now the club captain.
Liam Gordon – A Perth boy and a Saints supporter, Gordon has taken a circuitous route to McDiarmid Park. His professional football education began at Dundee, then took him to Raith Rovers and Hearts. He first formed a partnership with Kerr in the Saints under-20s and has been farmed out to Elgin City and Peterhead. Gordon’s return from injury this season was a significant factor in the team’s rise up the Premiership table.
Chris Kane – As with Kerr, Kane played his boys club football in Edinburgh before joining the Saints academy as a 15-year-old. He was a prolific youth and under-20s goalscorer, and continued that trend on loan with Dumbarton. Kane was then farmed out to Queen of the South, scored a hat-trick on his first game back with Saints and has been a vital squad member for Tommy Wright ever since.
Callum Hendry – After being released by Blackburn Rovers, the Saints under-20s provided a platform for the young striker to get his injury-interrupted career back on track. Misfortune (and arm break) struck again when Hendry, son of Scotland legend Colin, was loaned to Brechin City. But his eye for goal was never in doubt and he has made his name this season, scoring nine times, the last of which, a late winner against Livingston, will probably be the final Saints goal of this season.
Ali McCann – The midfielder joined Saints from Hutchison Vale as a 14-year-old. After making a handful of first team appearances and captaining the reserves, he joined Stranraer on loan for the second half of last season. There he helped keep the Stair Park club in League One. It looked like a battle between McCann and Kyle McClean to become a fixture in Wright’s first team squad this campaign and the younger man won it. After catching the eye at Celtic Park on day one, he has since been a virtual ever-present. McCann’s goals have shaped him into an all-round central midfielder, who will be Saints’ player of the year, probably Scotland’s young player of the year, and a transfer target of bigger clubs in the future.