Richie Towell signed for Championship high flyers Brighton and Hove Albion this week and the former Dundalk midfielder will now be looking to book his place in the squad when the Republic of Ireland depart for the European Championships in France next summer.
The attacking midfielder signed a two and a half year deal with the Seagulls but will not be available for selection until January when the transfer window in England reopens. The free scoring Towell helped Dundalk to back-to-back league titles as well as the double this year in a season where he netted 29 goals in 44 games from midfield. His penalty against Shamrock Rovers helped seal the title in Tallaght and he also scored the decisive extra-time goal at the Aviva Stadium as Dundalk defeated Cork City in the FAI Cup final last month.
The 24-year-old has previously had spells with Celtic and a loan move to Hibernian in the Scottish Premier League. A second loan spell at Hibs saw limited appearances for the Edinburgh club when manager Pat Fenlon’s plans did not include Towell. Following his release from the Hoops, he was forced to line out for a spell with Bluebell United in the Leinster Senior League after missing the deadline to sign for a League of Ireland team. Stephen Kenny’s Oriel Park rebuilding project was taking shape and Towell signed for the Lilywhites when the League started up again.
During his time with Dundalk there was repeated calls for the Dubliner’s inclusion in the Ireland squad. However the fact he plied his trade in the League of Ireland was always going to count against him with Bohemians’ record goalscorer Glenn Crowe being the last domestic based player to get a senior call up in 2002. Shamrock Rovers’ Pat Byrne was the last player to represent Ireland in a competitive fixture at senior level while playing in the League of Ireland 16 years previously. The domestic game is consistently ignored by Republic of Ireland managers with the lack of quality offered as the reason for the lack of caps. However former Cork City defender Brian Lenihan famously received a call up to the senior squad in November 2014 only a few short months after signing for Hull City without ever making an appearance for the Tigers.
Former St Patricks Athletic winger Chris Forrester joined League 1 club Peterborough United in August and immediately impressed new boss Graham Westley. Highlighting his composure, intelligence and ability to read the game, the manager likened him to Manchester United’s Michael Carrick. Forrester’s immediate success illustrates the talent that is available in the league. Although the supremely confident Towell has stated his lack of desire to work his way up from the bottom rungs of the league ladder in England believing he is good enough to go straight into the senior squad. His belief in his own ability is such that he expressed his ambition to be the player from the League of Ireland to “break the mould” and be the one to get an Ireland call up. With offers from Poland, Turkey and the MLS on the table a move to England was the only realistic choice for a player with international aspirations. But in signing for Brighton he has joined a “Premier League ready club” which will surely do his Euro 2016 dreams the world of good.
In a route that mirrors Richie Towell’s rise, Keith Fahey made a huge impact across the Irish Sea having made his name in the League of Ireland. The former Arsenal and Aston Villa trainee also had a short stint with Bluebell United after a couple of years in the Villa Youth and Reserve teams before returning to Ireland. He signed for St Patricks Athletic and enjoyed considerable acclaim with the Inchicore outfit. In 2008 he signed for Birmingham City after winning the PFAI Player of the Year award and scoring 11 goals for the Saints. League Cup success would come Fahey’s way in 2011 when Birmingham beat Arsenal 2-1 at Wembley. Fahey would go on to make 11 appearances for Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland, scoring three goals and only failed to make the Euro 2012 European Championships squad when injury ruled him out.
In the lead up to Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine James McClean was tearing up the Premier League with Sunderland, while current Ireland boss Martin O’Neill was at the helm. His debut against the Czech Republic in February of that year was greeted with roars of approval from the Lansdowne Road crowd who had clamoured for his inclusion in the squad for months following his form in the Premier League. With only 11 appearances for Sunderland before pulling on the green jersey following his move from Derry City a year earlier the Creggan man’a inclusion in the squad for the European Championships that year should be a source of inspiration for Richie Towell.
Towell will be hoping to join the ever growing list of League of Ireland graduates who now play for the Boys in Green. The squad that went into November’s playoff games against Bosnia & Herzegovina featured 9 players who all cut their teeth playing for clubs at hom, including Shane Long (Cork City) whose goal toppled World Cup champions Germany. Alongside him were Kevin Doyle and David Meyler (Cork City), Daryl Murphy (Waterford United), Wes Hoolahan (Shelbourne), Seamus Coleman (Sligo Rovers), James McClean (Derry City), Stephen Ward (Bohemians) and David Forde (Galway United and Derry City). The ambitious Towell has represented Ireland at U-17, U-19 and U-21 level and will now have his eyes set on breaking into the Brighton first team and will have an Ireland call up for Euro 2016 firmly in his sights.