Richie TOWELL today revealed how Hibs boss Colin Calderwood’s “pester power” was behind his return to Easter Road.
Calderwood simply refused to take no for an answer as he was repeatedly rebuffed in his attempts to secure a second loan spell for the Republic of Ireland Under-21 defender.
But finally Hoops manager Neil Lennon relented, paving the way for Dublin-born Towell to head back along the M8, delighted at the prospect of a full season of SPL action rather than having to settle for “bounce games” at Celtic’s Lennoxtown training centre.
While Calderwood had made it clear he’d welcome Towell back after the youngster impressed following his January arrival, it was only after he had made a desperate dash to Edinburgh just ahead of transfer deadline day to complete the move he learned of the tug-of-war which had been taking place behind the scenes.
Totally oblivious to Calderwood’s repeated approaches, Towell set off as part of the Celtic party for the pre-season tour of Australia, a tiring but enjoyable trip which saw Lennon’s players clock up some 25,000 miles as they criss-crossed the country to play Central Coast Mariners, Perth Glory and Melbourne Victory.
He said: “I played the full 90 minutes of the first game in Sydney but, unfortunately, I picked up an injury and didn’t play in the other two matches.
“It was quite soul-destroying to do all that travelling knowing I was not going to be playing. I had to see a chiropractor a couple of times as I had hurt by back and my neck. I couldn’t really sleep or walk, in fact do anything.
“But luckily enough when I came back it was all right and I was able to start training and playing again.”
Towell’s hopes of finding himself part of Lennon’s plans – the Celtic boss professing to being an admirer of his talents after a promising debut in Inverness last season – rose as he found himself in the squad for the opening day of the season against Hibs at Easter Road.
However, he instead found himself sitting alongside suspended skipper Scott Brown as goals from Anthony Stokes and Sung Yueng Ki earned the Glasgow outfit the points.
He said:“Having been named in the squad I was looking forward to that game but obviously it was disappointing to learn I wasn’t going to be one of the 18 getting stripped for it.
“It was a bit strange to be watching my two teams playing against each other, although I was a Celtic player at that point I was kind of jumping about for both of them. I thought it was a really good game and that Hibs had played some good football.
Admitting recalling that day had given him more than a few problems with his “us and thems”, Towell continued to train hard and to put in extra work in the gym in the hope of persuading Lennon to give him the opportunity he craved.
He said: “I knew I would either be getting my chance with Celtic or be going back out on loan so when Neil Lennon called me into his office and aksed if I wanted to go back to Hibs I said “yes” straight away. I jumped at it.
“I’d played a lot of football here last season, it was brilliant and I’d loved my time with Hibs. I knew it was going to be hard to go back to play reserve team football which isn’t the same as going out in front of a big crowd every week and playing a good standard of football.
“It was only afterwards I learned what had been going on. Neil told me Hibs had been tring really hard all summer to get me. It kept going back and forth, Hibs asking and being told “no.” I couldn’t tell you how often it happened but it seems it had been going on for quite a while before it finally happened at the last minute.
“Neil told me, as he had in January when I first came on loan, that this was a good place to come and play my football. I obviously knew that for myself because I really enjoyed my time here. The pleasing thing to know a manager such as Colin Calderwood put so much into trying to get me.”
While the surroundings at Hibs East Mains training centre may be highly familiar, there are a few strange faces around with a host of his former team-mates having departed over the course of the summer as Calderwood has continued to rebuild his squad.
Thus far there’s been precious little evidence that this season will be any better than last when Hibs finished a miserable tenth in the SPL table, Calderwood’s side currently sitting bottom of the pile but Towell, who has reconfirmed his commitment to the club by once again setting up home in Edinburgh, fully believes that’s a false position regardless of what the statistics might suggest.
He said: “Guys like Liam Miller, Derek Riordan, Colin Nish and so on have gone but the manager has brought in a lot of good players. I think the squad this season is very strong, the strike force alone looks very good.
“We’ve got lots of guys up front to pick from which is something we perhaps didn’t have last season.”
The boos which resounded around Easter Road at the end of many games last season were evident again as Towell’s first match back at his “home-from-home,” Sunday’s clash with Aberdeen, finished in a goal-less draw but the 20-year-old shares his team-mates’ conviction that they can soon turn the jeers into cheers. “We know where the fans are coming from, I don’t think a big club like Hibs should be down at the bottom. But I think one win and we will kick on, we have a squad which is massive and strong and we owe it to the fans to put in the performances and get the results which will see us start to climb again. At the end of the day we have to put everything aside and focus on the games. There is that added pressure because we are down there but it is still early, we have a game in hand over many of the other teams and we know we are more than capable.”