Unlucky: After a year on the sidelines Tigers veteran Lee Gilmour is hoping to return and bolster castleford’s play-off push. Peter Smith reports.
long-term casualty Lee Gilmour is confident an injury nightmare lasting almost a year will soon be over.
The Castleford Tigers centre/second-row has been sidelined – one pre-season game apart – since last May, but could return to action next month.
At 35, Gilmour is one of the oldest and most experienced players in the British game, having played for Wigan Warriors, St Helens, Bradford Bulls and Huddersfield Giants before joining Castleford ahead of the 2013 campaign.
He showed early glimpses of what he could bring to a then-struggling team before missing the second half of the season due to a shoulder problem.
Having battled back from that setback, Gilmour was getting ready to start this term when he found himself back on the casualty list due to a completely separate injury.
Now back in light training, he is looking to step up and be fighting for a place in Tigers’ high-flying team in a matter of weeks.
Explaining the long-running sage, Gilmour said: “I had a knee clean-out back in January.
“Unfortunately I got an infection in that and it put me back from a four-week turnaround to probably around three months.
“The strength in my knee is pretty good now and I have been back running for three weeks, so I am probably around three weeks away from playing again.”
The wounded knee was just the latest setback in a year to forget for Gilmour, who has played just one competitive game under Tigers boss Daryl Powell.
He was included in the side which lost to Catalan Dragons in Perpignan last May, but was then ruled out due to nerve damage in a shoulder.
“I got back from that and played in Craig Huby’s testimonial game,” he recalled. “I felt a tweak in my knee and thought it was best to get it cleaned out, with a 30-game season coming up, rather than having an operation in the season. I was expecting to be back in three to four weeks, but unfortunately I got the infection and it knocked it out of me.
“I lost a lot of weight – over a stone. I have got a lot of that back on now, but it’s just a matter of waiting for the strength in my knee to come back.”
The infection left Gilmour in hospital and on a drip for a while, which is obviously a huge concern for a professional athlete whose game relies on strength and power.
He said: “I had the operation on a Friday and trained on the Monday, tried to do some re-hab’ and by Wednesday I was back in hospital again, on a drip for seven days.
“I was on antibiotics for another three weeks, so I was pretty flat and lethargic for that period of time.
“One of the worst things was the muscle wastage in my knee, with it being in one position for so long.
“The amount of muscle I lost in that three to four weeks made it a bit more complicated getting back.”
Tigers’ 43-20 Good Friday win at Wakefield Trinity Wildcats marked the end of the opening third of their season.
Gilmour is hopeful of being back on the field by the mid-way point and he added: “I will see how things go, hopefully stay clear of injuries and try and fight my way back into the team.”
That won’t be easy, given how Tigers have performed so far.
Ahead of today’s home clash with Warrington Wolves they were third in First Utility Super League, with a record of seven wins from nine games played.
Along with Widnes Vikings, who are beginning to struggle to keep up with the early-season pace-setters, Tigers have been one of the big improvers this year and Gilmour said: “That has probably made it slightly easier.
“Obviously if the lads are playing and you are sat watching it is difficult, but to see them going so well has been great.
“It is really pleasing to see us up in the top four as we are now and hopefully we can kick on from that.
“It has been a great start to the season. Sat in the stand watching, you want to be out there with them, but you have got to be patient and realise you are better doing the right thing, which is making sure the knee is 100 per cent or as near as it can be before coming back into it.”
To an extent Gilmour has observed Tigers’ revolution under Powell from a distance, as one of their injured players.
Assessing the difference made by the former Leeds Rhinos and Featherstone Rovers boss, he said: “The biggest thing he has instilled is a belief and confidence in the players.
“They have always been a talented football team and able to play a good brand of rugby, but I think Daryl has toughened us up mentally.
“We are mentally tougher and I think we are probably fitter than we have been.
“I thought we were fit last year, but [conditioner] Ben Cooper has done a great job again.
“But the main thing is belief and mental toughness.”
The feelgood factor is back at Castleford and Gilmour added: “The Cas fans have always been passionate about their rugby. It’s good they have got something to cheer about this year.
“The players and the coaching staff are all aware of how good the fans are and we want to give them something back.
“Another thing Daryl has improved is the togetherness of the team. I think we are a lot tighter this year than in previous seasons.
“People like Kirk Dixon and Craig Huby, who have been here a long time, are saying it is the tightest group of players they have been a part of.”
The fact Gilmour is not guaranteed to walk straight back into the team when given the all-clear is an indication of how far Tigers have come.
He said: “We have probably got 20, maybe 24, players who are Super League standard players. Look at the players who didn’t play [on Friday] who will come into the fray [for today].
“It is great we don’t have to flog players and play them 28 rounds a year.
“We get an opportunity to give them two or three games off throughout the season to keep the squad fresh and everyone playing well.”
Powell planned to swap his side around for this afternoon’s game as he attempts to keep players fit and fresh through the hectic Easter period, which culminates in Sunday’s home Tetley’s Challenge Cup fifth round clash with Sheffield Eagles.