Danny Gabbidon has revealed that his West Ham United team-mates welcomed him back from his injury nightmare with a standing ovation.
The Wales international defender ended 18 months on the sidelines with a persistent, complicated abdominal problem by returning to full training at Chadwell Heath last Thursday.
As an example of the superb team spirit at the club, manager Gianfranco Zola and his squad marked the occasion by giving the popular 29-year-old a hearty cheer that the player himself clearly appreciated.
"It was nice," said Gabbidon. "The manager got the lads to give me a round of applause to welcome me back so basically it was just really nice to be out there doing what I'm paid to do, really.
"I've been a bit embarrassed at times not being able to earn my wages. I've been doing a lot of work in the gym but I wanted to be out there on the pitch earning my money so it was nice to get back a week before the end of the season.
"Hopefully now I can get myself ready in the off-season and get back ready to go for next season."
Gabbidon revealed that his lay-off, which saw the Cwmbran-born player undergo back surgery in the middle of his painstaking rehabilitation programme, had sometimes left him wondering if he would ever kick another ball. After endless, lonely days and long evenings in the gym, that fear was finally laid to rest last week.
"It's been tough, probably the hardest moment of my career. I've been injured for a long time and obviously you have thoughts about if and when you are going to come back.
"It's hard watching the boys play week in, week out when you just want to be out there playing but it was nice to get back training last week and I really enjoyed it. It's been a long time coming and I've spent a lot of hours in the gym so it was nice to get out training in the fresh air with the lads. I'd missed it."
Having come through three days of full training with West Ham without any adverse reaction, Gabbidon was at the Boleyn Ground on Sunday to watch his team-mates end their Barclays Premier League season with victory over relegated Middlesbrough. Afterwards, he was delighted to join the squad for the traditional end-of-season 'thanks' to fans on the pitch.
It was back to the hard work again this week, however, as Zola and the Hammers' medical staff gave their blessing for Gabbidon to link-up with the senior Wales squad, including club-mate Jack Collison, who are in training ahead of Friday evening's friendly international against Estonia at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli.
The former Cardiff City man suggested he may even get a run out in Friday's game, but insisted his long-term focus is on getting himself fully fit for West Ham United ahead of the 2009/10 season.
"I'm going away with the national team to get some training with them and see how I feel there. There's a friendly game at the end of the week so maybe I can get involved in that, I'll see how I feel.
"Obviously I'll have a couple of weeks to rest then I'll have to get myself ready a week-or-two before we come back. That's the plan and hopefully I can come back ready to go."