Towell ready to be patient for Brighton breakthrough
It was within the confines of an empty stadium that Richie Towell realised the task he faces to become a mainstay at Brighton and Hove Albion.
The January capture from Dundalk had been given an instant springboard to illustrate his credentials for the promotion-chasers in an FA Cup tie against Hull City but Chris Hughton is fond of keeping his fringe players on their toes by arranging midweek friendlies.
"I've played a couple of behind-closed-doors games," explains the midfielder. "The team we put out in one of them would probably play in any Championship side.
"There was James Wilson up front, then Andrew Crofts, Steve Sidwell, (Kazenga) Lua Lua and Gordon Greer, the Scotland international."
His list doesn't stop there: "We had a French right-back, who has played in the Premier League. When you're playing with people like that, it can only bring you on."
Between the multi-million investment of benefactor Tony Bloom, and the lure of next season's television largesse, Brighton can afford to have an expensive back-up cast to support their Premier League pursuit.
Sidwell was the other transfer window reinforcement of Chris Hughton's on a loan from Stoke City and, like Towell, has struggled to unseat the incumbents who have kept the Seagulls in the automatic promotion places. He's earned two starts, one more than the Dubliner.
For those surprised by Towell's peripheral role to date, it should be remembered another League of Ireland export, James McClean, took over five months to break into the Sunderland team in 2012. Conversely, Jason Byrne scored on his Cardiff City debut only to drift away from the first-team picture.
"This is probably a bedding-in period for me," reasons Towell (24) who has another three seasons left on his contract.
"Chris was very honest with me when I signed and he's told me to keep doing what I'm doing.
"The two midfielders, Baram Kayal and Dale Stephens, are flying and the team is on a great run. Everybody knows I'm a realist; I was never going straight into a team top of the Championship."
Should Hughton call upon his compatriot during the eight-game run-in, fitness wouldn't be a problem.
"I'm as fit as I probably ever been. Anything the club provides for us I'm doing, such as yoga and pilates. All it takes is one injury and I could be in," he says.
"But I think pre-season will be massive for me. I've already been on to Graham Byrne (Dundalk's fitness coach) about a programme that he'll have ready for me."