Towell ready to kick on again after injury nightmare
When Richie Towell left Dundalk for Brighton on November 30, 2015, after scoring a phenomenal 29 goals in the season from midfield, it seemed only a matter of time before he was added to the list of international players who had benefited from their association with Lilywhites' manager Stephen Kenny. However, Towell's career has been anything but plain sailing since, and he now finds himself on a season-long loan at League One Rotherham.
Asked if this was a re-run of his experience in Scotland, where he failed to make the breakthrough at Celtic and ended up on loan twice at Hibernian before returning home to Dublin and Bluebell United, he was adamant that there is no comparison. "I was only a kid then," he explained, "and went on loan first at 18, and I wasn't playing much when on loan at Hibs. Chris Hughton (Brighton manager) is really pleased with the way I'm going at Rotherham. At first we were flying, something like nine games unbeaten, and now we have just hit a bad patch. Every team has one, and hopefully we'll be out of it and flying again soon."
The major setback to his hopes of making a quick impression at Brighton occurred in pre-season training last year. There was talk that the injury occurred while he was on holiday in New York and training in Central Park, but he insists that was not the case.
"The injury didn't occur on holidays," he said, "it was just a case of wear and tear. In Dublin I was pushing myself to the limit, and the body didn't accept that. I ended up with a hole at the back of my knee, where the bone wears away.
"I was still training at Brighton and due to play on the Saturday, but I ended up on crutches for three to four weeks and then on rehab, but since then I have not had one problem. I'm very lucky with the medical team we have at Brighton."
That injury effectively put Towell at the back of the queue for a place in Brighton's midfield as they made a successful bid for promotion to the Premier League. On top of that, Hughton wouldn't send him out on loan in case he was needed, which was difficult for the Dubliner, who was keen for action.
"Yes, it was frustrating, but the manager sat me down and explained that I have to be unselfish and that I needed to put the club first, as we were all striving for promotion," he said. "It worked and we achieved that dream and I'm glad that I was a part of it. When you're not playing you feel that you are not part of the manager's plans, but he even gave me a new contract to show that I was part of his plans, and I appreciate that very much."
Motivation, in those circumstances, was not difficult, Towell insists. "I am self-motivated - I want to be the best I can be every day. I had to get behind the lads and be ready to play if someone got injured. The manager made it clear there were still places up for grabs."
His need for football has seen him drop down two divisions to play for Rotherham, but he takes a realistic view. "With Brighton going up to the Premier it would have been difficult to make the team, so it's great to be getting regular games with Rotherham. Besides we play 4-3-3 as well, like I did at Dundalk, with a defensive midfielder and two ahead of him, and I play ahead of the defensive midfielder. As a team we have one of the highest rates of goals scored - we just need to improve our defensive record."
Towell sees his stay at Rotherham as a stepping-stone to further his career, both with Brighton and Ireland. "I was fortunate to play underage with Ireland right up to the 21s, and a senior cap is the one I have dreamt of since I was a little boy," he said. "I just need to get back to the limelight, and making the play-offs with Rotherham would do that for me. It would be a good platform."
He has naturally taken a keen interest in Ireland's results and feels for them following their World Cup KO. "I have a lot of friends in the team - I played with Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick on the 21s and I lived with Shane Duffy for a few weeks. I know everybody is disappointed with the result against Denmark, but they were fantastic in the away leg and overall they did very well. Duffy, especially, was fantastic for the whole campaign. My hope is that if I play the way I know I can I will get a call-up."
After three great years with Dundalk, when he won two League medals, the FAI Cup and played Champions League and Europa League football, the only thing missing on his CV is that international cap. Now that his injury problems have cleared up, he is ready to set the record right on that front.
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