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Sunday 4 December 2016

New Seagull has big chance to fly

Towell facing tough battle at Brighton

Dundalk hero Richie Towell with his SSE/SWAI Airtricity Player of the Month Award for November at the Davenport Hotel, Merrion Square
Dundalk hero Richie Towell with his SSE/SWAI Airtricity Player of the Month Award for November at the Davenport Hotel, Merrion Square

When Jamie Vardy raised his arms in triumph and became the toast of the Premier League, his achievement was celebrated as a victory for the underdog. Here was one who fell through the cracks but by dint of pure talent rose to the very top.

Around the same time as Vardy was carving a great hole in Louis van Gaal's defence to score his 11th consecutive goal and move to within touching distance of the all-time scoring record held by Jimmy Dunne , Richie Towell was signing a professional contract with Brighton.

Towell is no Vardy. He will never be mentioned in the same sentence as Real Madrid or Manchester United but he climbed just as big a mountain as the Leicester City striker and deserves just as much credit.

Vardy has arrived in a very big way however and Towell's struggle is only really beginning.

Brighton have one of the biggest squads in the Championship and Chris Hughton is very well funded. If they need a player they will spend money in the January window.

No matter how good Towell is, he will be walking onto a training ground filled with players who are half-way through a very successful season .

It would be a very big ask to find room for competitive football ahead of lads who have driven the club to pole position in the race to the Premier League.

That's why the notion that Towell might somehow become a wild card option for Martin O'Neill is fanciful if not entirely impossible.

He is well down a list for Ireland just as he will be well down the list at Brighton's impressive Falmer Stadium. Towell's move to Brighton was greeted with a mixture of well wishes and regret among League of Ireland supporters as is always the way when a talented player leaves.

He entertained people across the country this season and every time a good one moves across the Irish Sea, it is an acknowledgement of a bitter reality. The grass is an awful lot greener over there.

If Towell does make a breakthrough and Brighton win promotion to the Premier League, no doubt claims will be made about the League of Ireland's positive role in his development. In this case they might even be true.

Usually, when a case is being made for an increasing influence from the LOI on the Ireland senior international team, players like Shane Long who had, at best, a nodding acquaintanceship with Cork City, are trotted out and the role played by his schoolboy nursery Borris St Kevin's and St Michael's in Tipperary ignored.

But there can be no argument about Towell. The traditional route didn't work for him and his first run at a professional career started at Parkhead in his mid-teens and ended there five years later.

Dundalk and the League of Ireland undoubtedly gave him the platform for a second run at a career across the water but it should still be noted, he learned how to play the game over ten years with Crumlin United, something he is clearly grateful for.

Education

"I went and played for Crumlin from the age of five to 15. They gave me a great education," he said some time back.

Right now, any 16 year-old who is as good as Towell was at that age is idle. The LOI U17 league is approaching its conclusion and there are mixed reports about how well it is progressing.

The word is that the proposal to launch an U15 version could be deferred for two years which would suggest that LOI clubs are struggling, logistically at least, to cope.

Newly minted rules in the DDSL means that the 40 clubs which have mothballed their U17 teams will be able to sign players up to March 12, which is after the LOI deadline. It will be very revealing to see how many they resign.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that Jimmy Dunne, the man Vardy will try emulate and beat, learned how to play the game at Stella Maris.

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