ESSENDON has been targeting experienced former AFL players as its No.1 priority to replace the 12 Bombers suspended for the 2016 season, football manager Rob Kerr says.
The Dons' list management team has moved swiftly to identify a list of about 20 players to fill the gaps in their squad and started talking to experienced campaigners since the Court of Arbitration for Sport banned 34 past and present Bombers for doping offences last Tuesday.
"Our priority is finding some experienced players and they've probably been the ones at the top of our list that we've approached first," Kerr told the club's website.
"We've been speaking to some of those guys, they've been weighing it up, and we're starting to move forward with some of those more experienced players."
The League last week revealed its rules for the Bombers to recruit up to 10 top-up players, only allowing them to sign players who had been on an AFL club's list in the past two years or from their own VFL team – unless otherwise approved by AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon.
Kerr said sorting through players who have retired or been rejected by other clubs had been a "difficult process" with the NAB Challenge only a month away.
"It's required a lot of work … trying to pull together 12 players at this time of year is not an easy exercise, and particularly when you look at the quality of player that we’ve lost," Kerr said.
"Trying to find the balance, after a draft when all clubs have finalised lists, everyone's got locked and loaded in terms of what the next year looks like, the players that are remaining are retired or there's been decisions made about them as far as suitability for the AFL.
"So you're just trying to work through it and think 'OK, who's maybe got something to offer to us?'. Not just football-wise but also in terms of the culture of the group and leadership and those sorts of things."
Kerr said player managers had been contacting Bombers' list manager Adrian Dodoro pushing the case for their clients with a point to prove.
"Then you've got to keep that players' club in mind – particularly if they're at state league level," Kerr said.
"The older guys have maybe had a bit of a think about it and thought 'well, if I come back is that something I want to do?' given they've probably just got their minds settled on retiring from top level football.
"You find that the group who's maybe in that 24, 27 or 28 age-range, they're the ones champing at the bit to get the opportunity.
"If a player thinks they've got something to prove, they're fairly keen to have a go."
The Bombers have been given until March 15 to finalise their squad for this season.