Rovers' Richie Towell celebrates scoring a goal against St Patrick's Athletic. Evan Treacy/INPHO
difference maker

'The year he left Dundalk, he got 25 goals, we know he can do that'

Richie Towell was key as Shamrock Rovers picked up their sixth straight win on Monday night.

WITH FOUR GOALS in as many games, it’s beginning to feel a lot like 2015 all over again for Richie Towell.

The 31-year-old’s career trajectory has been well-documented at this stage.

After a couple of years at Celtic without establishing himself in the first team, Towell returned home, joining Leinster Senior League side Bluebell and thinking about “what I was going to do if I wasn’t going to be a footballer”.

Having grown disillusioned with the sport and looking like he could become the latest supremely talented Irish footballer to drift into obscurity, Towell subsequently joined Dundalk and rediscovered his love of the game under Stephen Kenny.

A move to Brighton didn’t really work out with the club at the time on the cusp of promotion to the Premier League, but Towell still enjoyed plenty of success in his second spell abroad, helping Rotherham gain promotion to the Championship and also spending two seasons at Salford City.

Since returning to Ireland in 2021, Towell has established himself as an important player for Shamrock Rovers, with the player helping the Hoops claim two league titles — the same number he won with the Lilywhites.

Yet there is one noticeable difference between Towell in his first and second League of Ireland spells. 

These days, the Dubliner is not the prolific goalscorer he once was. For Dundalk, he scored a phenomenal 43 goals in 96 Premier Division appearances from midfield.

2015 was the peak in this regard, with Towell winning the Player of the Year award after registering 25 goals from 32 Premier Division appearances.

He has not come close to matching that tally since, either in England or Ireland.

In the last two seasons with Rovers, he has finished the season with two Premier Division goals.

Yet Towell has adapted his game as he has gotten older. Since leaving the Lilywhites, for every club he has represented, the Dubliner has invariably been asked to play a more defensive role, making it virtually impossible to replicate the free-scoring days of old.

However, there were shades of the Dundalk-era Towell on Monday evening at Tallaght Stadium.

With the game tight at 1-1, the player finished a move he started, making a clever, well-timed run into the area and expertly heading home a cross from fellow former Lilywhites star Ronan Finn.

After Pat’s levelled once more, Rovers won a penalty in the dying stages. Towell stepped up and slotted home in a supremely confident fashion to hand his side all three points.

“He’s been excellent for us all season,” Stephen Bradley told reporters after the Pat’s game. “He gives us good energy with the press and once we get out of the building phase, gives us real legs in the final third.”

The Hoops boss went on to suggest Towell’s days as a free-scoring midfielder are not necessarily over.

“The year he left Dundalk, he got 25 goals, we know he can do that. Sometimes, we restrict him a little bit in how we play. But he judged it really well tonight in terms of once we get out of the building phase, he went and played free, which is really good to see.”

Rovers possess an array of attacking talent with the likes of Jack Byrne, Graham Burke and Neil Farrugia among the key men that spring to mind, but is Towell a little underrated in this regard?

“Maybe from people on the outside, I’m not sure how he is viewed. But from inside we know what we brought in and what we have. He’s a born winner, Richie. You’ve seen that with his time at Dundalk. For me, the reason he’s so key for us is his attitude and everything he does. He’s an incredible professional, who brings those standards every day to what we do. This year, he’s come out of the team for two weeks because of the illness but other than that, he’s been one of our best players.”

And what was the illness in question?

“I think I had pneumonia,” Towell explains. “I was on a couple of courses of antibiotics. It really knocked the sails out of me as I thought I had been playing quite well.

“I missed two games because of that and it took me a while to get back up to full health. I feel great now and fitter than I ever have, to be honest.”

He continues: “I didn’t leave the bed for about 10 days. I have pretty bad asthma as it is, so when I went to see the doctor he was a bit worried. He put me on every known antibiotic.

“To be fair, the club looked after me really well. They eased me back in and it stood me in good stead.

“I did lose a little bit [of weight] but not so much. I have a good appetite.

“It was just about getting back to the basics, eating healthily and getting back in the gym.”

Towell went on to suggest playing a slightly different way than usual was part of the reason for the sudden goal glut.

“It’s something that the manager and coaching staff have been on at me to get back to doing a little bit more on passing and running off the gain, which is probably one of my strong points. Other players don’t seem to match the runs.

“The goal against Derry was very similar, whereby I started it and then finished it.

“This one was a great ball in from Finner and luckily enough I was able to score a header which I don’t score many of.”

“I was playing a little bit deeper on Monday night which I haven’t really been doing since I’ve been here.

“That’s probably my preferred position, to play deeper and run onto the ball. It was nice to get two goals. That’s four in my last four games as I didn’t play against UCD.”

And Towell’s confidence at present is mirrored throughout the Hoops’ team — they showed impressive mental strength on Monday to recover from the concession of a late equaliser by going up the other end to score the winner moments later.

“I think it shows where we are as a team and as a club, even when we were 10 points off top, now we are top.

“It shows how we are, how we think and what we demand of each other, not just in a game but on a daily basis.

“We’re actually quite relentless. It’s a great club to be at and it’s a great team to play for. Especially with the management behind you who never let us rest on our laurels.”

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