Waiting game: Ryan O'Keefe faces the unpleasant prospect of playing out his career in the NEAFL having not played in the seniors since round four.

Waiting game: Ryan O'Keefe faces the unpleasant prospect of playing out his career in the NEAFL having not played in the seniors since round four. Photo: Jay Cronan

Premiership favourites Sydney are entering the last month of the home and away season with a near full-strength list, but it bodes ill for club legend Ryan O'Keefe, whose hopes for a senior recall fade with every week.

The decorated veteran faces the unpleasant prospect of playing out his career in the NEAFL having not played in the seniors since round four.

And he was not given any cause for optimism by coach John Longmire, who hinted on Monday that the 2012 Norm Smith medallist had an uphill challenge to break back into the Swans side.

"As it sits it's going to be a bit of a challenge if he hasn't gotten in at this point," Longmire said. "You never know what's around the corner."

It would take a significant stroke of bad luck on the injury front for the Swans to pave the way back for O'Keefe, given the number of players who have been afforded opportunities since his axing more than four months ago.

In that period, the Swans have handed debuts to four youngsters – Dean Towers, Zak Jones, Tim Membrey and Jake Lloyd – and they have also turned to up-and-comers Gary Rohan and Brandon Jack when openings have arisen, while Harry Cunningham has played every game this season.

The rise of Luke Parker as a prolific contested-ball winner and Ben McGlynn's development as the Swans' primary defensive-midfielder has all but shut the door on O'Keefe playing any role as an on-baller.

"We've been pleased with the balance of the senior team and how they've been going. It's been a tough team, particularly in the midfield, to break into," Longmire said. "It'll be a challenge for him but Ryan's a pretty resilient character."

O'Keefe's management said last week the the 33-year-old, who is an unrestricted free agent, was keen to explore options elsewhere next season but Longmire said he has since been told by O'Keefe no decision had been made for next year.

O'Keefe's cause has not been helped by the Swans' blessed run with injury this year, which is a marked contrast to their campaign last year.

The Swans have used a competition-low 31 players and have 10 who have not missed a game this year – a number matched only by North Melbourne.

The likely returns of Lance Franklin and Dan Hannebery from injury this week for the clash against Port Adelaide means the Swans will be able to field arguably their strongest 22 of the season. "It wouldn't be far away from it," Longmire said.

He said Hannebery would not be asked to come back via the reserves despite missing the past seven weeks with an ankle injury.

"If he's available for selection he'd be pushing very hard in the senior team because he's a naturally fit player, he's an extremely good endurance runner, he's done a lot of work and he's an important player for us," Longmire said.

He brushed off suggestions gun youngster Tom Mitchell, who has been linked to a move to Carlton despite being a contracted player, was out of favour at the Swans.

Dogged by knee and ankle issues this year, Mitchell has not played in the seniors since round four and managed only 2½ games in eight weeks.

"I think you just need to have a look at the facts, he hasn't been able to play or train consistently," Longmire said. "We know he's a really good player but you've got to be able to train and play to play at any level. I hope he's able to do that in the next few weeks but it's very difficult to get a game in the seniors if you're not playing in our reserves team.

"Apparently he's pulled up well today. We need him to increase his game time now and hopefully get him up to full fitness because the season's fast racing towards the end. He needs to make sure he gets some fitness at training and in games."

The Swans are expected to announce premiership-winning midfielder Craig Bird has agreed to terms on a new deal tying him to the club until the end of 2016.