Sydney veteran Ryan O’Keefe is mentoring one of the young midfielders who has put his future in the game in peril.
Jake Lloyd is among several Swans in the engine room O’Keefe long commanded who appears to have squeezed out the club legend and left him facing his football mortality.
O’Keefe, 33, last played a senior match in the dismal loss to North Melbourne last month. It was his 53rd consecutive game, taking him to 286 - fourth on the Swans' all-time list. He won the Norm Smith Medal in the victorious 2012 grand final and finished fifth in the best and fairest in 2013. Yet, the gritty left-footer underwent a rapid demise amid a restructuring this season that has left him on the outer in the final year of his contract.
“He still wants to play senior football, of course, and we haven’t ruled him out of playing senior football,” coach John Longmire said.
“But hopefully the supporters are also seeing the development of our players. That’s the reality, we need to keep evolving as a team, our structure needs to keep evolving, our personnel needs to keep evolving. We needed to add some more depth and armoury and variation to our midfield.”
Jarrad McVeigh has returned to the centre after filling in for injured defenders last season. Ben McGlynn and Craig Bird are spending more time in midfield, too. Josh Kennedy and Kieren Jack are consistent performers and Luke Parker is consolidating his position.
“And now you’ve got Lloyd and [Harry] Cunningham, they give us something a little bit different,” Longmire said.
“They’ve been playing well. They’ve had really good pre-season’s themselves and they deserve their opportunities. They add something different to our team, which is very important for us.
“It doesn’t mean that Ryan can’t come back in and play and we’re not going to rule him out because we think he can come in and do certain roles.
“But we’ve got some players there who have had some reasonably strong seasons to date and you’ve got to keep evolving as a football team, adding games, and hopefully the supporters can see some of those younger kids coming through and playing good football as well.”
Some of that might be due to O’Keefe’s contributions. His presence in the reserves, Longmire said, had been valuable for the club’s second tier. Apart from “training as hard as he ever has”, the coach said O’Keefe had been spreading his knowledge among the reserves on and off the field.
“His preparation and leadership has been absolutely second to none.
“He’s been sensational and really important for what we’re about, helping with the development of some of the players coming through. Whether it’s on-field where he can address them or at the breaks or after the games or pre-games, his contribution has been enormous for our younger kids.
“That’s ultimately what we want, the older players helping the younger kids - he’s even Jake Lloyd’s mentor - and to have him doing such a good job at that is a credit to him.”