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Michael Hurley has taken another step on the comeback trail but Essendon coach Ben Rutten can't guarantee the popular veteran a feel-good AFL return before the end of the season.
Hurley has gradually increased his output in three reserves outings after recovering from a crippling hip infection, which sidelined him for the better part of two years.
The 32-year-old had 10 disposals on full game time against North Melbourne in the VFL on Sunday.
"All reports are he pulled up well from that, got through that," Rutten said.
"That's certainly the first step for him. His form and his impact on the game is kind of secondary at the moment.
"We've been managing his training a little bit during the week, so as he gets more confidence and more resilience and durability into his body he'll be able to train more.
"But it's just pleasing to see him out there and getting through a full game now, which is great."
Out of finals contention despite five wins in their last seven outings, Essendon will play GWS, Port Adelaide and Richmond in their last three games.
If Hurley can't get back into the senior team for the Tigers clash at the MCG, it will likely be career over for the 193-game defender.
The Bombers are taking a cautious approach.
"We're talking with him about that and what that looks like for him," Rutten said.
"We haven't been able to look too far ahead with Hurls throughout the last 12 months.
"There's been a lot of uncertainty ... now he's getting through games, which is great.
"But we're not looking too far ahead with Hurls just yet."