A ‘likely scenario’ has emerged in the race for in-demand free agent Ben McKay, with a monster offer giving North Melbourne the chance to hold picks No.2 and No.3 in this year’s AFL draft.
The Kangaroos are so convinced McKay will ask to leave that they are yet to put a formal contract extension and financial offer in front of the defender.
But his possible destination has shifted in recent months.
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Essendon, led by McKay’s former North coach Brad Scott, had been pegged as the frontrunner with Hawthorn and Port Adelaide also in the mix.
7NEWS Melbourne’s Mitch Cleary now believes the Sydney Swans loom large in what would be a big win for a Kangaroos draft hand already boasting pick No.2 and a late first-round pick.
“Everyone at North Melbourne is bracing for him to request a trade,” he said on Channel 7’s Talking Finals.
“Other clubs are often a good gauge when it comes to the market for rival players.
“Sydney are the strong word out of opposition clubs that they’re leading the race at this stage.”
McKay’s age – he turns 26 on Christmas Eve – is set to combine with a big-money deal to earn North Melbourne significant compensation from the AFL.
“(Pick No.3 to North) is the likely scenario at this stage, especially if it’s Sydney,” Cleary said on Channel 7’s Talking Footy.
“I think the Swans’ offer will be upwards of $700,000 a season.”
A shorter or inferior contract could have moved North’s compensation pick to the end of the first round.
But that is unlikely to be the case, particularly if Essendon and Sydney – somewhat cashed up after Lance Franklin’s retirement – ramp up their bidding war.
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Such is North Melbourne’s desire to accelerate their rebuild that senior coach Alastair Clarkson opted against launching a desperate plea to McKay when he spoke on the free agent’s future last month.
He referenced Hawthorn’s premiership success in the wake of Lance Franklin’s departure in 2013 to suggest the Kangaroos would not be lost without the defender.
“If Ben decides to stay, he’s been at the footy club for seven or eight years and we feel like he’s just ready to blossom into a really good defender,” Clarkson said.
“He’s already a good defender, but his best seven or eight years should be in front of him now.”
Hawthorn and Port Adelaide look set to remain on the outer as McKay comes to his decision.
The two clubs were battling for Geelong’s off-contract defender Esava Ratugolea, who on Wednesday chose the Power.
Port have previously been linked with a move to bring Bombers defender Brandon Zerk-Thatcher home to South Australia.
Zerk-Thatcher could become a renewed priority for Essendon in the wake of Ratugolea’s request and particularly so if McKay chooses Sydney.
Elsewhere at North Melbourne, Tarryn Thomas is all but certain to play out the last year of his contract in 2024.
The 23-year-old recently met with Brad Scott to discuss a potential move to the Bombers but has swiftly backed down.
“It all happens very quick. (Thomas) has told the Roos in recent days that he plans to stay,” Cleary reported on Talking Finals.
“I think it was all just going to become a bit too hard for Tarryn Thomas (with) $700,000 owing on his one year left at Arden St.
“I think that Brad Scott interest might be just a little bit of tyre kicking for one year down the track when maybe there’s a bit more (to play out).”