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Friday 21 July 2017

Connor seeking Pilgrims' progress in the cup

Dublin-born Plymouth ace Smith is hoping to put out club he followed

Connor Smith
Connor Smith

As a kid growing up in Ireland, the FA Cup - in Connor Smith's mind - was all about hoping to watch Steven Gerrard lift the trophy for Liverpool at the end of each season.

For Smith, Cup success this season would mean his fourth-tier side Plymouth Argyle knocking the same Reds out of the competition at their Home Park ground this evening, a replay forced by a 0-0 draw at Anfield earlier this month where two boys from Blanchardstown, Smith and Graham Carey, impressed for the Pilgrims.

It will be a battle for Plymouth, as Liverpool are expected to be much more at the races than they were in the drawn game at Anfield, while Smith (23) has a battle of his own, hoping to shake off an ankle injury picked up in a league game last weekend.

Family

Smith was born in Dublin (Blanch) but moved to Mullingar with his family before his teens, yet there's no case of split loyalties when it comes to the blue jersey of Dublin or maroon of Westmeath.

"I'm a Dub, full stop," he says, with the same single-minded approach to tonight's replay.

"I want to win the game and be in the next round of the FA Cup, even though Liverpool are the side I used to support.

"I came on for the last 15 minutes at Anfield and it was a great experience.

"I had been a Liverpool fan as a kid, I used to go there to watch them play, so to play there was an even bigger occasion than I thought.

"Myself and my brother were both Liverpool fans and we couldn't wait once the draw was made. It was always about Steven Gerrard for me as a kid, I could remember those Cup finals. So to play at Anfield was one of the highlights of my career to play at that ground, against the team I supported as a kid," added Smith.

About to turn 24, Smith's career has been on hold for large spells and his record of 27 appearances for Plymouth this season is the best to date.

He spent five years with Watford and was - technically - a Premier League player for a spell, but opportunities were fleeting.

"Yeah, I was at Watford the year they got promoted and was there until January when they were in the Premier League, I was included in the 25-man squad for the Prem but didn't get games," says Smith.

"When I first signed at 16 it was the old owners and the club had a history of bringing young players through, that was a big part of the reason why I joined.

"I was on the bench at 17/18 when Malky Mackay was there, I got my debut at 19 under [Gianfranco] Zola but I never really established myself in the team or had a run of games."

After a series of loan spells, and a short stop at Wimbledon, a move south to Plymouth at the start of this season has worked out, for all parties.

Derek Adams' side have been in the top two of the League Two table for some time and promotion looks likely.

And like the club, Smith has ambitions: a member of the Irish U19 side which reached the semi-finals of the European Championships in 2011, he played in green alongside current stars like Shane Duffy, Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick.

Quality

"I have been at that level and I know the quality needed to play there, I feel like I am capable of playing at that level but it's a matter of doing it, moving up the leagues," says Smith.

And there's the small matter of the Cup run, which he hopes can be extended, Argyle serious about their task.

"We need a similar performance to the away game, everyone concentrating for 90 minutes, being strong defensively, being ready to score from a set-piece, maybe try and force it to extra-time.

"If we keep it 0-0 for the first half-hour, we have a great chance. If we keep them scoreless, they might get frustrated, try to force things and then we can try and get on top of them.

"We will be switched on. You can't go into a game worrying about who you'll swap shirts with, it's not about that: the match, and the Cup, are the most important things.

"After the game you can worry about swapping jerseys but if you think about it beforehand you will struggle," Smith says.

Plymouth Argyle v Liverpool (Live, BT Sport 2, 7.45)

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