ESSENDON says veteran free agent David Hille wants to stay with the club next year despite the strong competition for ruck positions at the Dons and the apparent interest in him from other clubs.
Hille's manager Alex McDonald confirmed that his client was happy at Essendon, while indicating that there were rival clubs interested in Hille, who is unrestricted free agent and can go to the club of his choice at season's end.
''It's not surprising there's interest in David Hille,'' said McDonald. ''But he's very happy with Esssendon, which has been very good to him. But there wouldn't be too many clubs that wouldn't be happy with David Hille.''
Hille is one of a number of ruckmen who are out of contract and targets of clubs that feel they need a proven follower. But the veteran, who is 31, would be facing a pay cut if he left the Bombers, given that there isn't a club that would be willing to pay him the estimated $400,000 or more that he receives at Windy Hill. Since he is a veteran, along with Dustin Fletcher, the Dons receive a significant salary cap discount for Hille that wouldn't be available to any other suitor.
The only argument in favour of Hille leaving is that, at 31, he might find that Essendon prefers Tom Bellchambers as the primary ruckman, with Paddy Ryder a lock for the second ruck position - unless Essendon revisits the possibility of playing all three rucks. This arguably would be even harder if the AFL shifts to a two substitute, two interchange system next year.
The Dons have given a trial to three rucks, using Ryder as a key position player, with limited success.
Essendon football operations manager Paul Hamilton said Hille had spoken to coach James Hird and indicated ''that he's keen to continue [with Essendon].''
''We're started having talks. We've spoken to his management, very much in the early stages,'' he said.
Hamilton did not elaborate, but Hille would be certain to be offered only a one-year contract.
Hamilton said Hille was expected to play in the VFL for Bendigo on Saturday, in what would be his second game at VFL level since he overcame a calf injury that kept him out since round two and enabled Bellchambers to stake a serious claim for the No.1 ruck position.
While Hille's age is a negative, the fact that he could be obtained without giving up anything, besides whatever contract he accepts, is the basis of any appeal he has to other clubs. As an unrestricted free agent, he can walk to whichever club he pleases, with Essendon receiving a late draft pick.
Clubs that might be in the market for a ruckman include Hawthorn, Geelong, St Kilda and possibly Collingwood. The Hawks have Max Bailey returning later this season, but otherwise have been relying on David Hale, with mature rookie Broc McCauley and Jarryd Roughead also used.
Geelong has relied on Trent West, who has been far less imposing than the retired Brad Ottens, and was forced to draft 29-year-old Orren Stephenson as a last-minute back-up. The Cats have the capacity to recruit from other clubs for the first time in years, due to the huge veterans' allowance discount they will get next year, with so many players having 10 years at the club (the allowance is $110,000-$115,000 per veteran player).
The re-signing of Mark Jamar by Melbourne has removed one out-of-contract ruckman from consideration.