SHANE Long’s recent impact has instilled the belief that he can remain a Premier League player into his mid-thirties.

The Irishman has been the catalyst for Saints’ recent improvement, with his performances against Watford and his Norwich inspiring back-to-back home wins that he is determined to make three against West Ham United on Saturday.

Long will be 33 in January and is out of contract at the end of the season, but his form will have significantly increased his chances of an extension.

His summer may have been spoilt by a hamstring injury, the bane of any player for whom pace is such an asset, but he confirms that is as fit, if not fitter than ever.

After running non-stop during the last 35 minutes against Watford, and then playing two games in five days against Norwich and Newcastle, he is at the top of his game once again.

“Someone told me the other day that it had been 200 days since I played 90 minutes and I played 85 [against Norwich] five days beforehand,” he said.

“You’ve got to keep yourself fit for when that chance does come your way because it comes at strange times, when you least expect it.”

Five years after arriving from Hull City for £12m, Long is now one of Saints’ more experienced heads.

“When there are lads in the dressing room who were born in the year 2000 - I think what?! But my body feels good.

“When you get the stats after a game it’s always nice to see what you’ve done and I hit the fastest speed I’ve ever recorded against Newcastle. Apparently it was 10.4 metres per second.

“So I’ve still got my pace and that’s one of my main attributes.

“The game’s gone more professional over here over the years, there’s a lot more work on players getting faster with work in the gym to make their muscles stronger. I like to think I’m benefitting from that.

“I do a lot of high-metre running and pressing and running in behind defences, so I’m making sure I keep doing a lot of long sprints to prolong my career.

“People ask how long I think I’ve got left and I can’t see it ending at the moment.

“I don’t feel I’m at that stage yet, I feel strong and ready to go. Long may it continue.”

Long has always been an outstanding all-round athlete.

He was good enough to be a professional hurler, is one of the best golfers in the Saints squad and was a gifted sprinter in the 100m and 250m hurdles as a schoolboy in Tipperary.

“As a kid I did every sport you can think of and athletics was a big part of that,” continues Long, who also credits that multi-sport background for the gravity-defying header that set up Ryan Bertrand’s winning goal against Norwich (a goal that was particularly satisfying for being conceived and practised in training).

“Maybe that’s where the leap comes from as well, I did the high jump and the long jump and got an U14 record in Ireland in the hurdles so I did a lot of speed work as a kid.”

With Danny Ings also looking as sharp as he has ever done, it is no coincidence that the return of Saints’ high press is reaping its rewards.

“Everybody has upped their performance, we’ve now found a formation that the players slot into and I’ve got a partnership with Danny where we understand each other and what we bring to the side,” continues Long, whose ability to run intensely for sustained periods is dovetailing nicely with Ings’ preference to do similar work from his deeper role.

“With the ball we tend to do that[link] naturally but without the ball we work as hard as each other to press the defence and win it back,” continued Long.

“The first thing Danny does when he wins the ball back is look for me and vice versa.

“He’s a goalscorer and I throw myself about up front to help make those chances for him.

“I know if I do get the ball to him in the box he can stick it in the net. Hopefully, over time, I’ll back him up with goals as well.

“It’s the start of something that could be very fruitful for the team as a whole.”

All that is missing from Long’s game since his recall has been a goal but, as Ralph Hasenhuttl has pointed out, he offers so much more than goals alone.

Long, who scored four in five games in April, added: “I know you don’t tend to get more than one or two opportunities so it’s important to take that chance when it does come my way.

“But the manager understands what I bring to the team. Hopefully it’s the start of a long, good season for me.”