Michael O’Halloran knows all about rejection in football. This young gem of St Johnstone, who will pit his wits against Rangers at Ibrox tonight, is a rising star of Scottish football, yet less than two years ago, when he was 23, hardly anyone had heard of him. And he was heading for oblivion.

O’Halloran was 16 when, lured by the offer of a professional contract with Bolton Wanderers, he severed ties with Celtic’s youths, left his Moodiesburn home, and headed down south to chase the dream of English football. Today O’Halloran is an eye-catching talent on the Scottish scene, but he has paid his dues in terms of perseverance, anxiety, and hard graft just to make his career work out.

Tommy Wright, the St Johnstone manager, rescued O’Halloran from his dead-end in England when he signed him 20 months ago. It was a typical Wright judgement which has benefited St Johnstone and rescued a career gone awry.

“I was originally at Celtic boys club but when Bolton came in for me I wanted to try it,” says O’Halloran. “I was only 16 at the time, I’d just left school, and it meant uprooting myself and going down there.

“My six years at Bolton were tough, but they were also good for my maturity. I was immature when I first went down but I was forced to handle everything that happened to me. I just wanted to try out England. The chance to go there and have a career in football was too good to resist. I was ambitious – I still am – so who wouldn’t want to try it?”

It proved an arduous road. O’Halloran, like hundreds of skilful young players trying to make their way, went from Bolton’s youths, to reserves, to training with the first-team squad, all the while dreaming of making himself a fixture in the team. But it didn’t happen.

“I was a young kid just trying to work my way through the ranks at the club: from youths to reserves to first-team,” says O’Halloran. “In the end it didn’t work out, especially when Owen Coyle left as manager in 2012. He had been brilliant to me but, when Owen left, Bolton started going down a different road.

“It’s hard to break into a team which is involved in a relegation scrap. In that situation managers don’t blood youngsters. You just get forgotten about.

“It was a hard time for me. I was training all week and not getting a game. Basically, I was keeping myself fit for nothing. You get depressed and you can feel lonely. I just tried to keep my chin up because I think I’ve always believed in myself. You’ve got to stay confident. To be a professional footballer, you have to believe in yourself.”

There were some highs along the way. During a loan-spell at Sheffield United in 2012 O’Halloran scored in a penalty shoot-out in front of 55,000 people at Wembley as United fell to Huddersfield in the Football League play-off final. But by 2013-14 O’Halloran, as gifted as many felt he was, was stagnating at Bolton, and went more than half a season without actually playing.

Wright had tried to sign him on loan in the summer of 2013, but Bolton rejected the attempt. Six months later O’Halloran finally arrived at St Johnstone as a fully-signed player.

“Signing for Tommy and St Johnstone has been brilliant for me,” he says. “I had played almost no competitive football in eight months when Tommy signed me in January, 2014, and yet four months later I was playing in a Scottish Cup final. It was crazy, an unbelievable situation. I’d become forgotten about down in England.

“It has been a brilliant career move. I love being at this club. Apart from anything else, my career had stopped. I had to get it going again, and St Johnstone have given me that chance.”

In meeting Wright, an affable character from Northern Ireland, O’Halloran is also now under the guidance of a manager he clearly likes and respects. “Tommy is brilliant with the lads – he has a great relationship with us,” he says. “He’s also a funny guy, with a bit of banter about him. He’s certainly been brilliant to me, I can’t speak highly enough of him. And he really wants St Johnstone to do well.”

With his “pace to burn” and dribbling antics, O’Halloran has lit up Scottish football. Tonight, at Ibrox, we’ll see what he’s made of in facing Rangers. Wright, just like every other coach he has played for, sees a number of positions in which O’Halloran can bring his menace.

“I’ve played everywhere: on the right wing, on the left wing, through the middle, and behind the striker. But I feel I’m a winger – that’s my position. I can dribble and I’ve got pace to get past people. I like to attack and take people on.”

O’Halloran has recently extended his stay at St Johnstone, tying him to the club at least until the summer of 2017. He will be 26 by then and, if he continues at this rate, may well have bigger clubs pursuing him.

“My ambition is to play at as high a level as I can. At some point, hopefully, I might get another chance to play in England. I try to aim high. But at the moment I feel very happy at St Johnstone. I signed a new deal at the club in the summer, which keeps me there this season and next. I love the whole atmosphere at the club, it is brilliant.”

Tonight in Glasgow O’Halloran says St Johnstone have a point to prove, after a disappointing performance against Rangers in the quarter-finals of the League Cup 11 months ago.

“We lost 1-0 that night and we played pretty poorly. So this is our chance to make amends. This is our chance to show what we can do. I feel more excited than nervous about going to Ibrox. These are the sort of games you love to play in. It will be another fantastic experience for me.”