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Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE Towell receiving SSE Airtricity/SWAI Player of the month award for April yesterday.
# Hungry for Success
How extra training and gym work helped Towell become Irish football's top midfielder
The Dubliner is in the goalscoring form of his life for the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division champions.

Updated at 19.00

IT’S NOT BY accident or a stroke of good luck that Richie Towell is arguably the finest footballer in the SSE Airtricity League at present.

With 10 goals in his last eight matches, Dundalk’s free-scoring midfielder admits everything he hits “seems to be going in” right now.

But the 23-year-old is reaping the rewards of countless hours spent fine-tuning his physical condition in the gym and perfecting his talents on the training ground long after his team-mates have gone home.

I’m practising a lot more,” Towell said yesterday, after his performances earned him SSE Airtricity/SWAI Player of the month award for April yesterday.

“In previous years I’ve done a lot of stuff off the field in the gym and but now after training I’ve just been practising and practising everyday. The manager has been giving out to me trying to get me off when I’m doing my shooting, telling me to save my legs for the game. But it seems to be working so far so I’m not going to change anything.

“I’m still doing the gym work as well but I’ve just been putting in a bit more practise on the pitch as well. I think the likes of Ronan Finn coming in has rubbed off on me a little bit because he practises all the time. It has helped me a lot.”

Towell prides himself on being one of the fittest players in a squad brimming with youth and energy. The former Celtic youth recalls arriving for the first day of pre-season with Dundalk after signing ahead of the 2013 campaign and winning the sprints and bleep tests.

His career with the Hoops never really took off and, after a loan spell at Hibernian, the Dubliner opted to return home at the age of 21. Rather than feel sorry for himself, however, the former Crumlin United schoolboy put everything into getting back on it track and bought into Stephen Kenny’s masterplan.

Richie Towell is congratulated by Darren Meenan Morgan Treacy / INPHO Towell has ten goals from midfield already this season. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Two years on, Towell is enjoying his football like never before as an integral part of the best team in the country. Last season was a fairytale for the Louth club as their 19-year wait for league success came to an end with a 2-0 victory at home to nearest rivals Cork City.

That night, celebrations were put on hold as he got wind that Cardiff City were offering a trial. He trained all week with the Bluebirds and was involved in a friendly game against Chelsea. It may have proved unsuccessful but Towell accepts that the club and the timing were both wrong.

Other offers were on the table but “they weren’t right for me and I always said that I wasn’t going away just to say I played in England or in Scotland, this is a good league over here and I’m happy to be playing here for Dundalk”. A new deal was signed in February and the player is grateful for how they dealt with the situation.

“They know how ambitious I am and if the right move came for me, they weren’t going to stand in my way, which I was happy about. [But] if I was staying [in Ireland] there was only one team I was going to sign for.”

Having proudly represented Ireland from U15-U21 level, it comes as little surprise that Towell aspires to make the next step in international football. In 2013, he was invited to train with the senior players by then caretaker boss Noel King, who knew him well from the U21s, along with Dundalk team-mates Kurtis Byrne, Andy Boyle, John Sullivan and David Elebert, of Shamrock Rovers at the time.

Richie Towell, Andy Boyle and Curtis Byrne 8/10/2013 Donall Farmer / INPHO Towell, Boyle and Byrne training with Ireland in October 2013. Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

He remains thankful for the experience but accepts that is the closest he will get to the Ireland squad as long as he is plying his trade on these shores — despite the presence of Martin O’Neill at recent Lilywhites games.

“Obviously everyone wants to play for the senior international team but if you’re playing in Ireland I don’t think it’s going to happen,”  Towell said. “That has been proved with all the recent squads.

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“There are how many players playing in the international side that used to play in the league but never got a call-up? Then as soon as they went to England it came.

“It seems that way but you never know what can happen in the future. It would be great to see someone in our league get the call-up. It would raise the profile of the league but obviously the manager has a tough decision as there are a lot of good players playing in England at a very high standard.”

Just this week, Towell saw his friend Adam Rooney included for the first time after 27 goals in all competitions for the Aberdeen striker.

“I was only talking to him yesterday and he is delighted that he’s been called up. He’s in great form for Aberdeen and is a great lad. He is scoring a lot of goals so it shows that if you do put performances in, the manager will have a look at you.”

One thing has been evident this term, Towell is not worrying about what could happen in the future but focusing on the here and now. There is a freedom in his play that was missing at the back end of 2014. A sensational Van Basten-esque volley in their recent 8-1 win over Bray will be tough to better.

“I’m enjoying my football now and I haven’t even been thinking about it [interest from elsewhere],” he explains. “A few people have said it to me but wondering whether there is anyone watching is the last thing on my mind going out to play.

“That has made me more relaxed going out onto the pitch. I had a good chat with my dad during the week and he was even saying to me how relaxed I am.

Last year I was probably thinking ‘who’s watching? I probably need to impress here’, whereas this season I’m just going out and playing my own game. You’re not 100% focused on the game if you are wondering who is in the stand.”

We’re just 12 league matches in, but all signs are pointing to Dundalk claiming back-to-back title wins for the first time in their history.

Four points clear of Cork City with a game in-hand, victory at home to Derry City tonight would open up a seven-point gap with the Rebels not playing until Saturday.  Despite the lead, they’re not resting on their laurels.

“We’re a very hungry side, that’s one thing I would say about us,” he added. “We never get complacent and we’re always working hard. I think we’ve trained harder this week than we have since I first came.

“It’s been really intense this week and it shows the manager is confident in keeping it like that. He doesn’t want the levels to go down or for us to get complacent so he’s putting us through our paces.”

This weekend’s fixtures: 

Premier Division (Friday, 7.45pm unless stated) 

  • Dundalk v Derry City 
  • Galway v Bohemians
  • Shamrock Rovers v Longford Town 
  • Bray Wanderers v St Patrick’s Athletic (Saturday, 5.45pm)
  • Limerick V Cork  City (Saturday, 6.30pm)
  • Sligo Rovers v Drogheda (Saturday, 7.45pm)

First Division 

  • Athlone Town v Shelbourne 
  • UCD v Wexford Youths
  • Waterford United v Cabinteely
  • Cobh Ramblers v Finn Harps (Saturday, 7.45pm) 

No prizes for guessing the Airtricity League Player of the Month for April

This year’s Setanta Sports Cup has officially been cancelled