Towell reborn under 'passionate' Kenny
Dundalk ace out to derail club of his boyhood dreams
THE substantial Dundalk crowd descending on Richmond Park tonight for the biggest game of the League of Ireland season will be hoping for further inspiration from an Inchicore-based St Patrick's Athletic fan.
Richie Towell knows it is a strange situation. The Dubliner has arguably been the outstanding player in the Airtricity League this term, with his midfield presence central to the unexpected title challenge brought about by Stephen Kenny's arrival in Louth.
He grew up around the corner from Pat's home and, after moving back from a stint in Scotland with Celtic and Hibernian, he is living in Inchicore again.
But, having grown up on the Camac cheering on Trevor Molloy, he is determined to disappoint the locals in an eagerly anticipated showdown between the table-toppers.
With six games to go, the Saints lead on goal difference; this is a game where the importance justifies the hype. The 22-year-old, who sports a haircut that will always mark him out from a crowd, has been reminded about it everywhere he goes this week.
"Everyone is telling me we are going to be hammered," he smiled, as he collected the Airtricity/SWAI player of the month award for August. "Any time I see my mates, they let me know we're going to be beaten.
Towell made the walk down Emmet Road as a kid, but never played for Pat's.
"My dad (Tony) took me down to play with them, but I was only five. He wanted to bring me down to the U-8s – that was the youngest team they had – but they wouldn't take me. So I went and played for Crumlin from the age of five to 15. They gave me a great education."
It led him to Celtic and the high of a debut in front of 50,000 fans against Inverness, setting up a goal for Paddy McCourt in the process.
Unfortunately he couldn't dislodge the first-team regulars and then his loan stint at Hibs was ended by the arrival of Pat Fenlon, who didn't take a shine to a man with a 'versatility' tag.
Towell returned home where he had a short spell under Molloy and Andy Noonan at Bluebell United to keep himself sharp before he could join a League of Ireland side.
St Pat's didn't make an offer but Shamrock Rovers and Derry City were in the mix.
Kenny sold his Dundalk vision and promised a midfield berth. From there, it has progressed like a dream.
"I heard a lot about Stephen before I came but I didn't know him; he's the most passionate manager I've ever been around," said Towell, who has dedicated his award to grandmother Lily, who is unwell.
"Stephen has been unbelievable. At the start of the year Dundalk just wanted to stay in the league because they were thinking of closing the gates and finishing up. We've taken everybody by storm by what we've done so far."
In the home camp, they are ready to make their own noise tonight. Liam Buckley is conscious that the surprise element of the Dundalk story has created the perception they have the momentum, but he was in bullish form yesterday.
"What's momentum?" he said. "We've been top of the table for three months bar one week. I cannot compliment Dundalk enough for what they've done this year, but there's pressure on them now."
The Lilywhites won both previous meetings this term, although Saints midfielder Conan Byrne says luck was on their side, particularly with the controversial dismissal of Killian Brennan in Louth.
"They've been fortunate," said Byrne. "We gifted them the win here and then the sending-off. We have a point to prove, and if you want to win the league you've got to beat the teams around you; Dundalk are the only team around us we haven't beaten."
Buckley is praying that Brennan is fit and well to play his part tonight.
With Dundalk selling out their 1,300 allocation with days to spare and the Saints calling for a strong response from their followers, it promises to be a feisty night by the Camac.
St Patrick's Athletic v Dundalk,
Live, RTE2, 7.45