Richie Towell tells us how he's backing Dundalk for more Euro success
RICHIE Towell believes Airtricity League champs Dundalk would be capable of holding their own in the Championship in England, as he backed Stephen Kenny’s men to extend their run in this season’s Europa League.
Towell was the hero of Dundalk’s 2015 season, with his winner in the FAI Cup final capping off a sensational year that saw him smash 27 goals and secure a dream move to England with Premier League chasers Brighton.
In an exclusive interview with the Sunday World, Towell has revealed he is not surprised by Dundalk’s Europa League heroics as they go looking for a win that could fire them towards the knockout stages in Thursday’s crunch clash against AZ Alkmaar.
“Everyone thought Dundalk were going to be the whipping boys, but they are holding their own and have done our country proud,” begins Towell.
“I’m not surprised in the slightest because the set-up Stephen Kenny has in place is so professional and that has helped them to make the step up in class.
“The manager always wants the lads to play football and express themselves and that’s why they have been thriving. He is a manager who fills you with confidence and encourages you to enjoy yourself.
“They have a massive game coming up against Alkmaar and the way they have been playing, there is no reason why they should not go into it feeling confident of getting a result.
“Getting a draw against them away from home has to give them confidence and it would be fantastic if they could get the win that would move them close to the knockout stages.”
Towell could be forgiven for looking on with a tinge of envy as Dundalk embarked on their European adventure over recent months, yet the 25-year-old is not the type to wallow in such negative sentiment.
“There is no jealously on my part that I’m not involved in this Europa League story,” he insists.
“I would only feel happiness that they are doing so well and that is especially the case for lads like Andy Boyle and Dane Massey, who I got to know so well.
“We were like a little family and I’m so pleased to see them showing how good they are on a European stage.
“It was also great to see Andy and Daryl Horgan get into the Ireland squad. I sent them a text message to congratulate them.
“It’s a great story for Dundalk and Irish football. Here’s hoping it has a few more chapters left.”
Towell left Dundalk last December with high hopes of converting his free-scoring form into the English Championship division, yet a series of unexpected hurdles have been thrust in his path over the last year.
His dreams of making it big would not have involved a game against Leyton Orient in front of 549 spectators in the Checkatrade Trophy.
Yet that was the scene on a night when he sat down for an exclusive interview with the Sunday World.
This was his latest step in his bid to recover from a knee injury that has destroyed his hopes of a first-team breakthrough with Brighton this season, yet there was not even a hint of pessimism in his voice as he reflected on his first 12 months away from home.
“Everyone had an eye to see how I would get on when I came over and it hasn’t gone the way I wanted,” says Towell, on a night when he scored a magnificent goal to delight the modest crowd in attendance.
“What happens next is up to me and I’m determined to keep myself grounded and prove that I’m good enough to play in the Championship.
“This has been a big step up in class. There is no need to beat around the bush, this is a different level to what we see in the League of Ireland.
“It’s hard to gauge the League of Ireland, because Dundalk are on a different level to the rest.
“I think they could hold their own in the Championship. If they are doing well against Zenit St Petersburg, who are one of the favourites for the Europa League, there is no reason why they couldn’t do well at this level.
“The difference here is every team is strong and in the League of Ireland you have teams at the bottom end of the table training twice a week.
“There are no easy games in the Championship and you need to be at your best every minute of every game.”
Towell admits that his first year in English football has been a tale of frustration, with his two first-team appearances for Brighton scant reward for his efforts on the training pitch.
A loan move in January may be an option as he seeks out some first-team action, but he remains determined to convince Brighton manager Chris Hughton that he has what it takes to shine in his team.
“We have some really, really good players here. A lot of them could go and play in the Premier League tomorrow morning, no problem, so to come in and disrupt that was always going to be hard.
“I’d like to think I’m a better player than I was a year ago and working with Chris and the coaching staff at Brighton has given me a great knowledge of the game in England.
“Being around lads that have played in the Premier League is a great experience and now I want to prove that I’m good enough to play in the Championship.”
The fickle football fates could yet see Towell become a Premier League player next summer, with Brighton flying high at the top of the Championship after a sparkling start to the season.
That dream may appear distant right now, but Dundalk’s heroics in Europe confirm that class divides can be breached against all the odds.