Richie TOWELL has one hell of a dilemma on his hands ahead of this weekend’s Scottish Cup semi-finals – and it’s one which seems unlikely to produce an entirely satisfactory resolution for the amiable Irishman.
On loan at Hibs from Celtic, the 20-year-old knows that even if he helps the Easter Road club past Aberdeen on Saturday, there’s a high chance he will miss the final.
Under the terms of his loan agreement, Towell wouldn’t be permitted to face his parent club, who are hot favourites to get past Hearts on Sunday. The alternative is rooting for the Jambos to knock out Celtic, but that option doesn’t sit comfortably with him, as supporting Hearts and wanting the Parkhead club to lose are two of the last things he’d ever want to do. A Hearts victory would be the ideal outcome for Towell although, for obvious reasons, the player would never admit it.
“A Hibs-Celtic cup final wouldn’t be ideal for me,” he said. “It’s crossed my mind before that this could happen, but it’s in the agreement between the two clubs that I can’t play against Celtic. It would be horrible if we got to the final and I wasn’t able to play. I don’t want Celtic to lose and I don’t want Hibs to lose, so it’s a really strange situation for me.
“Although it maybe looks like a Hearts win would be best for me, I certainly don’t want to be supporting Hearts against Celtic. It’s a lose-lose situation whatever way you look at it. I’d just be itching to play but I wouldn’t be allowed.”
If Towell was sidelined for what would be the biggest game of his career to date, he wouldn’t be the first on-loan youngster in Scotland to miss out on a cup final in Scotland in such gut-wrenching fashion.
“It happened to my friend, Lewis Toshney, who is on loan at Kilmarnock from Celtic,” recalled Towell.
“He was unable to play in the League Cup final when Killie won last month. I would be absolutely gutted if it happened to me, but it’s just one of those things I’d have to take on the chin. Lewis didn’t ask to play in the game. You just accept that you’re not allowed to play. I agreed to the conditions of the loan so I could have no complaints if we got to the final and I wasn’t able to play. If Celtic let me play in the final, what would happen if I scored the winner against them? There’s no way they could allow it.”
Towell finds it hard enough being banished to the stand for SPL games against his parent club, so can’t imagine how galling it would be to have to sit out Scotland’s end-of-season showpiece match.
He said: “I find it hard just missing the league games between the teams. I know every time we play Celtic I won’t be in the team, which is hard, because if the lads do well, I know I might not get back in the team. Earlier in the season I was in the team, then we went to Celtic Park and got a draw when I was unable to play, so I was left out of the team for the following week and I’ve not played much since.
“That’s the disappointing side of being on loan, but obviously if the other lads played well, they deserve to keep their place.”
The personal anguish of potentially sitting out the biggest game of his life would be exacerbated by the fact Towell’s loyalties would be torn. “I’ve made great friends at Hibs and I’ve got great friends at Celtic, so I’d definitely have divided loyalties,” he admitted.
As much as there is a high chance of this unfortunate situation coming to fruition for Towell, the player himself knows that, given his lack of involvement of late, he could still miss out even if Hibs were to face Hearts in the final. His loan spell at Hibs hasn’t gone to plan so far, as he has not played nearly as many games as he’d hoped since Pat Fenlon took over as manager.
He made a rare start in the win at Inverness, but dropped out of the squad altogether for Sunday’s draw at home to Motherwell, as Hibs moved seven points clear of bottom-placed Dunfermline in the battle to avoid relegation.
It means Towell can hardly be considered a shoo-in for selection even if he were eligible. However, the suspension of Hibs’ player of the year, Lewis Stevenson, for Saturday’s clash with Aberdeen at Hampden creates a midfield void which Towell is desperate to fill.
“I’d love to be involved on Saturday,” he said. “It would be the biggest game I’ve been involved in. We’ll have a big support through there and it would be great for all the fans if can win it and get to the final.”
While Towell would love to end a hitherto disappointing season on a high, he is braced for the fact this weekend could end up representing his last chance of Hampden glory.
“I’d love to play in a final and get the chance to get a medal and lift the cup at the end of it,” he says, enthusiastically. “But if I’m picked for the Aberdeen game, I’ll just have to treat that as my cup final because I know there’s a good chance I won’t get to play in the final.”
The perils of going out on loan indeed.