RETIRED ace Andy Long says his final few months at Saints were among the best of his career.
The 34-year-old hooker, who was set to join Gloucester this summer, was forced to call time on a 15-year association with the game after receiving medical advice.
Long was diagnosed with a degenerative neck injury and had to put a stop to his proposed move to the Cherry and Whites.
But he went out on a high, standing in admirably for Saints skipper Dylan Hartley, who missed the closing months of the campaign due to international commitments and an eight-week ban.
Long helped Jim Mallinder’s men reach the LV= Cup final and the Premiership play-offs, playing his final game in the 25-23 semi-final defeat to Harlequins.
And the player, who has one England cap and more than 200 Premiership appearances to his name, was delighted to have finally got his chance at Saints.
He enjoyed it so much, in fact, he ranks the spell at the end of last season alongside the six years he spent at first club Bath.
“My period at Bath was great, coming into the team, getting capped for England and really playing in week in, week out,” said Long, who has also played for Rotherham Titans and Newcastle Falcons.
“I played week in, week out but we were getting beaten quite a lot so to playing in a great side (at Saints) and being able to contribute felt really, really good.
“Certainly to make my 200th appearance at home, against Worcester was something that was incredible. To have my boys on the field after was something I dreamed of.
“I ticked a lot of boxes in the last few months of the season, which meant I had achieved everything I wanted to achieve.”
Long will now pursue a career in sports coaching after landing a job with former team-mate Matt Perry at a company called Monetise.
But the 5ft 11in dynamo says he will miss being at Franklin’s Gardens and revealed he endured an emotional climax to his stint at Saints.
“I’m going to miss it a lot,” said Long. “It’s probably not really sunk in yet. I imagine it will when I’m doing some wet commuting to London that’ll be when I miss being out on the pitch in the rain and the snow.
“But I’ll be texting the boys saying I’m tucked up nicely on my train with my Starbucks. I’m sure they’ll be pretty jealous.
“There’s plenty of things I’m going to miss – the camaraderie of the locker room, the banter.
“And there’s plenty of things I’m not going to miss, like not getting opportunities. Sometimes that’s hard to take but I was able to finish on the top of my game and that’s always what I wanted to do.
“I’m certainly going to miss elements of it and I’m certainly going to miss the friends I built up there. I’ll miss the guys, the conditioners, the coaches and the physios.
“It was quite sad going out of the door on the final day but you’ve got to take on a new challenge and embrace that.”