HAWTHORN looks set to swoop on Essendon defender Michael Hartley after he departed the Bombers this week.
The backman, who has struggled to break into the Bombers' line-up in the previous two years, had remained the only out-of-contract player on the club's list until Essendon confirmed on Friday he was seeking opportunities elsewhere.
He looks set to find a new AFL home, which will follow his four-year stint at Essendon and his time before that on Collingwood's rookie list.
AFL.com.au understands the Hawks are Hartley's likely destination, although other clubs have also watched the key defender at VFL level closely throughout the year and expressed interest.
Hartley fell back in the queue for key positions spots at Essendon, managing only three senior games last season and four in 2018.
All Australian pair Michael Hurley and Cale Hooker had a stranglehold on the tall posts in the back half, while Aaron Francis and Patrick Ambrose have been preferred in other defensive positions.
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The Bombers also have high hopes for youngster Brandon Zerk-Thatcher as a key back, and he debuted late last season.
Hartley managed to sneak forward and occasionally played in the ruck for Essendon's VFL side, booting nine goals from 17 games.
He had been a regular member of the side in 2016, when they were struck by suspensions to most of the list, but also the following year, when he played 18 games, including Essendon's elimination final loss to Sydney.
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The 26-year-old's departure leaves the Bombers lacking key position depth, particularly after the surprise delisting of Mitch Brown last week.
But as AFL.com.au reported last week they have shown preliminary interest in delisted Tiger tall Callum Moore.
Essendon's decision to cut Brown came as a shock to some considering he had played 16 games and proved a handy forward foil this year, kicking 21 goals.
But it is believed the Bombers think they will be better off in the long-term to play others ahead of the 29-year-old.