Tuesday 11 December 2018

Towell taking flight to enjoy Millers' time

Loan move to Rotherham has put confident Dubliner on upward curve

Richie Towell believes he still has plenty to offer despite failing to break into the Brighton first-team. Photo: James Brailsford
Richie Towell believes he still has plenty to offer despite failing to break into the Brighton first-team. Photo: James Brailsford
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

When Richie Towell was bedding in at Rotherham, he was forced to explain to manager Paul Warne that he wasn't angry. He was just misunderstood.

With a grin, he admits that he might not have made the best first impression on his team-mates. "I think people had the wrong perception," he explains. "They were probably thinking, 'Who is this crazy Irish person shouting at me?'

"I seemed to be moaning the whole time. And the gaffer was telling me to calm down. But I just wanted to win. I don't want to be someone that's just middling, that's just existing. Every day, I want to achieve something."

There is an animated tone in the voice of the 26-year-old as he speaks. Fans of the League of Ireland will remember it well. It's just over two years since he left Ireland for Brighton, fresh from a season at Dundalk which captured attention beyond the usual audience.

He was a big fish at home, an expressive performer that wasn't shy about declaring faith in his own ability. It rubbed some opposing players and fans up the wrong way.

Before Chris Hughton's Brighton swooped for his signature, the Dubliner made it clear he would only depart Ireland for Championship level or higher. League One or League Two was not on his radar.

In that context, he is aware of the view that his current brief in League One has brought him down a peg. There is an honesty in his response, a reflection of the significant change in life situation that drove him just as he was preparing to move away. His daughter, Meadow, was born just after the Brighton switch was agreed.

"When I said I wouldn't go to a League One team, it was purely a financial thing," he says, "I was earning good money when I played with Dundalk and I was preparing to have a family. So I didn't want to move them and then have a financial burden which meant it was difficult to support them. When Brighton came in it was a no-brainer, and I'm still getting paid by Brighton so playing League One is not a problem.

"She (Meadow) is my number one. Everything I do, I do it for her. That's the reason I'm playing over here - so she can have a better life when she grows up as well. I keep a picture of her in my washbag that I look at before every game. I have her first soother there as well. Just little things like that which I keep with me, just to give me the inspiration to push on.

"I'm just like any other parent, going through work and doing what I can to support my family. I'm not doing it just to say I play in England; I'm doing it for a purpose and want to do it as well as I can and I think that's why the gaffer sees how much I put into every game and every session. He can see my desire."

That is Towell's calling card. He is an obsessive trainer, more likely to be found in the gym on his day off than anywhere else. In general discussion, he will mention players he's encountered that have more technical ability but who are lower down the food chain because of an inferior work-rate.

Rigorous

Last summer, the agent of a relatively high-profile youngster called Towell to ask if the cub could join him for his rigorous off-season training programme. A good example.

He retains a belief that he can climb to the upper echelons of his profession, but knows it will not come easy. There is a spring in his step again, though, after 18 months of injuries and then inactivity at Brighton stuck in a queue behind an established side bound for promotion.

It deprived him of the chance to really build a profile in England, but a league cameo against a Rotherham side headed the other way caught Warne's attention.

Towell had agreed a lucrative new contract at Brighton that complicated his position, but Brighton were willing to contribute towards his wages. He was bound for elsewhere until the Millers pounced on August deadline day, and he is now a regular as they strive to bounce back at the first attempt.

"I've always felt like a confident person but when you're not playing you've nothing to be confident about," he says, "I had nowhere to show it. But it never shook me really, not playing. I've a very, very strong personality. When I put my mind to something and focus on something, I can do whatever I want.

"Some people think it's arrogance but I think anybody that actually knows me and meets me know it's not like that. Off the pitch, I'm really quiet and just go about my day and come home and play with my little girl. The same as anyone else."

We meet in Sheffield, his current base, which is a 15-minute spin from Rotherham. His partner Kelly is happy there, preferring the city life to Brighton. Football-wise, there is contentment and he enjoys working with Warne.

He is firm when necessary. Towell tells a story about throwing a strop and kicking over a cup of coffee when he was subbed near the end of a win over Oldham. Warne cut him down afterwards.

But he respects his man-management skills, the level of contact Warne has with players even on their days off, "Even when I was in Dublin with my family recently, he as texting to check if I got home ok and if everyone was doing well," he says. "That's just a small little thing but they make a big difference and make you feel welcome. All the lads here play with freedom because of it."

With an average home crowd in the region of 10,000, Towell's performances are coming under scrutiny and local reports have been very positive - he had played every minute in 2018 until a knee injury put him out of last weekend's win over Wimbledon.

Deeper

A deeper role has aided his all-round development, even if it has negatively affected the goals tally. That's something he is keen to address.

On his future plans, he is keeping an open mind. He is realistic about Irish prospects, offering the view that he needs to be at Championship level before coming into the frame - he looks at players like Wes Hoolahan or latterly Conor Hourihane that had to be patient and stresses there is no rush.

The primary ambition is to get back into Brighton's plans, and the fact that Rotherham play a similar formation is a bonus in that regard. He wants to play at a higher level next term, however, and that's why a successful promotion bid might open doors for all parties.

"The reason I came on loan was to get back into the Brighton team," he says. "I'm still contracted to them and can't really look past that. But I am playing every week here and loving it so a part of me would love to come back and play full-time.

"I'm doing well, but I think there's a lot more to come from me and I don't want to waste another minute.

"So if I can knuckle down and focus on everything, not just the physical side but also tactically and technically, then you never know where it'll take me."

The effort he will put in means he won't die wondering.

Towell on...

IRISH HOPES

I'd love to say, I see myself in the picture, but I just need to be realistic at the moment. I'm not going to get called up. It's not that I've lost focus or hope. I think if I apply myself the way I have in the last few years, I can get there. I just need to get a break and play in at least the Championship.

MAN-MANAGERS

I've been lucky enough to have the likes of Stephen Kenny, Chris Hughton (right) and now Paul Warne who have a good relationship with their players. I think the days of screaming and shouting and battering your players are gone now. They do it when they need to, but the top managers put an arm around the shoulder to get the best response.

BRIGHTON CONTACT

I was talking to one of the coaches a few minutes ago. And Chris Hughton rang two or three weeks ago just to say how well I'd been doing. My main goal is to get back to Brighton and help them achieve what they want to achieve.

WEMBLEY DREAM

The gaffer keeps on saying you don't get many games like the play-off finals. You'd get to showcase your skill on a big stage. We're in the play-offs as it stands but it's really tight and a few bad results would put us out of it.

COMING HOME

Dublin will be home always, I still have a house and when I finish playing I'll move back but I'm over here now trying to make something of myself. Bruno at Brighton is 38 this year and playing Premier League every week. I've 12 years until I'm 38.

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