IT is 13 and a half years since two callow 17-year-olds – one from Coventry, the other from Liverpool – took their tentative first steps in professional football at Home Park.It cemented an already strong friendship that has endured through good times and bad. Both men made their Argyle debut in the 0-0 draw with Rochdale that concluded the 2000-01 season - they are pictured, above, with Ryan Trudgian, who made his solitary Argyle appearance in that match.
Luke McCormick and Paul Connolly, though, went on to play in the same Plymouth Argyle side a further 111 times – no other Pilgrim lined up alongside Paul more times; only David Norris was on the same teamsheet as Luke more often than the man who became known fondly to the Green Army as ‘Shelly’.
This Saturday, for first time, they face each other as friends and, for an hour and a half in front of Sky’s cameras, enemies – Luke with Argyle and Paul with Luton, who he joined in the summer after spells with Derby County, Sheffield United, Leeds United, Portsmouth, Preston North End, Millwall and Crawley Town.
“Paul’s one of my best friends,” said Luke. “I’m looking forward to coming up against him.
“I’m sure he’ll be out on Saturday to play as well as he can against one of his old clubs, a club that he’s still got a bit of a soft spot for. He spent a lot of time here and, like myself, he’s made friends with a lot of Plymouth people away from football. So he keeps in contact with them and, when he can, he pops back to see them.
“I’ll see him afterwards and we’ll shake hands and all that but, during the game, it’s about winning the game – he’s any other player.”
The pair first shook hands in the latter part of the last century, when Paul arrived at Home Park from his native – and much loved – Merseyside. They shook again at the end of the 2007-08 season, after the right-back decided he needed a new challenge.
“I met him from the train station when he turned up on trial,” said Luke, “so I was the first person he saw when he stepped off the train at Plymouth. We instantly hit it off and have become the best of friends.
“He moved on; I’ve watched his career and he has done well. He’s at the stage now where he’s just trying to get himself fit, back playing games, and enjoying his football again. I think Luton is a good place for him to be able to do that.
“He’s had a good career, and rightly so because he’s a good player – he showed that at his time here. It’s a shame we couldn’t hold on to him but players seem to come and go these days and he followed a path that he thought was right and I think it probably was right because he played for some good clubs.”
Both Luke and Shelly were too young to fully experience the rivalry that built up between Argyle and Luton when the two went head to head for the 2001-02 Nationwide Division 3 title, although both were an intrinsic part of the Argyle side that pipped QPR to the Division 2 top sot two seasons later.
Luke said: “In the two promotions which I’ve been involved in, we adopted rivals from the London area. We seemed to go about our business quietly and let our football do the talking while the other lot shouted their mouths off a little bit.
“I think it was one for the fans, to be honest; I think they enjoyed it. I’m sure those supporters who were supporting us those years ago will be looking forward to the game.”