TOMMY Elphick last night opened his heart on his memorable stay with Cherries, describing it as “by far the best four years of my career”.

In an emotional first interview with the Daily Echo since completing his move to Aston Villa, Elphick said he felt he had been part of a “masterpiece” painted by Eddie Howe at Dean Court.

A bargain £175,000 buy from Brighton in August 2012, Elphick captained Cherries to two promotions, including leading the club into the Premier League for the first time in its history.

“It has been a remarkable journey,” said Elphick. “The club has enjoyed a meteoric rise and it is showing no signs of stopping.

“The best way I can describe it is like the most unique jigsaw puzzle you could ever put together. Everything fell into place but it took a lot of hard work from everybody.

“It is the best picture you could paint. I am leaving behind a masterpiece and the lads have got to carry it on.

“Someone once described us as a bunch of misfits and we are! We were brought together in different circumstances and have achieved great success and had some truly wonderful times. “I will forever be indebted to Paul Groves for signing me and to Maxim Demin for the contracts he has given me. That was my platform to represent this amazing football club, something I have been proud and honoured to have done.

“The first 12 games under Paul were tough but I think that made us in some respects. We had to dig ourselves out and the gaffer (Howe) was the one who gave us the guidance.

“He was a breath of fresh air from the moment he walked through the door. He gave everyone a lift and didn’t have to do too much for our first game. We were lacking confidence and he gave us belief. For me, his arrival showed what the next four years were going to hold.”

Fourth from bottom in League One when Howe returned for a second spell, Cherries finished the 2012-13 season as runners-up with Elphick skippering them to the Championship.

“People said we consolidated in that first season in the Championship but I felt the final three or four months planted the seeds for what we achieved the following season,” continued Elphick.

“We learned some harsh lessons in the first six months before really getting the momentum going. The shackles came off and we realised we could be a force in the division.

“It really dawned on us that we could go up after we had beaten Middlesbrough at home because everything fell into place that day. We had other memorable days like Birmingham and Fulham away.

“For me, winning promotion to the Premier League was the greatest season ever. It will certainly give me inspiration to do it all again at Villa.

“You can’t beat winning. We were a group of players who all wanted the same thing and were following a man we knew was a winner. We had something special and if you could bottle it, it would be worth a few quid.

“People moved on but they should never be forgotten. We just kept finding more and even though my time with the club has ended, I don’t want them to stop.

“Unfortunately, with life and football, things have to come to an end. This is the end for me at Bournemouth but I know I am leaving on fantastic terms.

“The club finished in its highest position last season and the dressing room is as good as I have ever known it.

“I am leaving behind good friends but that is the nature of the beast. Life moves quickly but things move even quicker in football.”

Elphick, who will be remembered as the club’s most successful captain, added: “There are so many people to thank and it is going to take me a while. I have been overwhelmed by all the messages from supporters and would like to publicly thank each and every one of them.

“If someone had told me four years ago that my stay here would end like this, I would have taken it. To end on good terms has been perfect for everybody.”