Gilmour in right place to inspire St Helens

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The Independent Online

Sometimes, all a player needs to thrive is a chance to do what he does best. That is what Lee Gilmour has found at St Helens, where he has been transformed this season from a frequently disgruntled jack of all trades into a contented specialist.

Gilmour, who will be in the second row, hunting on the left side of Saints' potent attack, in the Powergen Challenge Cup final at Cardiff on Saturday, has had a strange career.

It was with this weekend's opponents, Wigan, that he made his big breakthrough in 1998, enjoying the sort of season that young players dream about. At the start of that season, he had made just one substitute appearance. By the end of it, he had established himself in the back row, played in a Challenge Cup final, been named as Super League's Young Player of the Year and played for Great Britain. It looked too good to last and it was.

"I was happy just to be playing first-team football, so it was unbelievable," said Gilmour, who was just out of his teens and fresh out of junior rugby in Dewsbury. "I could never have imagined all that in one season."

After that sensational campaign, things turned sour, with dark mutterings coming out of Wigan that his attitude had deteriorated. Gilmour says that he does not believe in the dreaded "second season syndrome," but admits now that he did not adapt as well as he might have done to a series of changes: a new coach, new half-backs, a new ground and a new role in the centres.

At the end of the 2000 season, he was allowed to move to Bradford, where, once again, everything started swimmingly. He again played for Great Britain ­ in roles as disparate as wing and second row ­ but, by the end of his third season with the Bulls, his stock had fallen so far that he was not even in the 17 for last year's Grand Final.

"I'd played every single game, including the semi-finals, so I was absolutely devastated. It was never explained to me; Brian Noble just said that I wasn't in." One possible factor was that Gilmour was already known to have signed for St Helens ­ a third big club in a chequered career. One reason for his decision was that, after believing that he would be first choice at loose forward this season, Bradford went out and signed the New Zealand international, Logan Swann. Not for the first time, he was left wondering where he fitted in.

At Saints, the prospects were very different, with his prospective new coach, Ian Millward, making it clear that he saw him not as a utility player, but as a starting second-rower.

"I thought it was the right move for me at the time. You never get anything promised, because you've got to produce the goods, but that was the reason I came here ­ to get regular first-team football. When you play in one position, you can build something, rather than being switched all over the place." The result is that Gilmour has been one of the outstanding successes in Saints' side this season ­ perhaps because he knows what is expected from him.

"There's so much talent, so many ball players in this side that you just have to run the right lines and the ball will find you." It is a stripped-down playing philosophy, but one that has worked for him this year.

"It starts with our back three. Paul Wellens and the wingers are so good at bringing the ball back that they turn defence into attack and our front-rowers have been outstanding.

"Nick Fozzard has been the form prop in Super League and, when they are playing like that, the back-rowers are always going to get their chances." Not that Gilmour will be underestimating the side at which his career began and for whom he played in a losing Challenge Cup final and a winning Grand Final.

"Their season started a bit slowly, but all their big guns are back now. When they drew with us in Super League they gave us our best game so far this season."

On top of the other things he brings to Saints, Gilmour is the one man on either side this weekend who knows what it is like to win a Cup final at the Millennium Stadium. He was there with Bradford last year ­ as a substitute ­ and calls it "a special place.

"With the crowd being so close to you, the atmosphere is something else." This year, he will savour it all the more for being involved on his own terms.

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