GARETH McAuley hopes his late breakthrough into professional football will allow him to prolong his Barclays Premier League playing career.
The Northern Ireland international did not sign his first professional contract until he joined Lincoln City from Irish outfit Coleraine at the age of 24.
After leaving the Imps, the 6ft5in central defender enjoyed spells at Leicester and Ipswich, before moving to The Hawthorns on a Bosman in May last year.
And the 32-year-old insists he has the fitness and desire to continue playing in the top flight for the foreseeable future.
“I’d love to stay here and I just want to play football for as long as I can,” said McAuley.
“I don’t want it to end and I just want to keep playing for as long as I can, winning games, and if I can keep putting in performances, why not?
“I started at the bottom, so why not finish at the top?
“I look after myself and train every day and fitness isn’t a problem.
“I’ve come into the game later as well so maybe my body hasn’t taken as much of a battering as all the young lads who have come through academies.
“They all play football 24-7 from the moment they are 15, so in that way all I can say at the minute is I feel good and I feel strong.
“The older you get, the more you think about it, and in the Premier League a lot of the game is played in your head really.
“Obviously it is physical and quick but you’ve got to think a lot more while you’re playing and your speed of thought has to be spot on, rather than what it’s like in the Championship.
“You have to use your head when you’re playing and I think that comes with experience, especially playing at centre-half.
“Raw athleticism can help you recover – but it you put yourself in a good position to start with then you don’t have to recover.
“A lot of players with pace can make themselves look better than they are because they’re quick.
“Concentration is essential and that’s a massive difference in Premier League and international football from the Football League.”
McAuley believes Albion’s team spirit helped him settle in quickly at The Hawthorns – admitting his experience of the Premier League might have been very different had he signed for another club.
“I knew Brunty and some of the other lads.
“Obviously, it might have been different going in somewhere else where the group isn’t like it is here.
“To be accepted into the group and earn their trust was a factor in coming here.
“Sometimes footballers are footballers but here they are good lads and there are no egos.
“It’s all about a tight-knit group that wants to do well for the football club.
“I knew I was going to have to be patient and bide my time to get a chance.
“But I always backed myself once that chance came along I knew I could do the business.”