Colchester United boss Joe Dunne remains quietly confident that keeper Sam Walker will return to the Essex club next season.

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But, as is the case at this time of the year, other targets are playing a waiting game before signing any deals for 2013-14.

Dunne moved quickly to snap up midfielder Craig Eastmond from Arsenal last month – a real coup for the League One club – but it could be several weeks before other new recruits follow suit.

Jabo Ibehre is weighing up his options, after being offered a new deal by the U’s, as are defender John White and keeper Mark Cousins.

It looks like the mad scramble for new clubs, amongst an ever-growing pool of out-of-contract players, will kick in towards the end of June and beginning of July.

“If I was still a player, I wouldn’t be leaving it too late,” insisted Dunne.

“There are going to be a lot of players out there, looking for clubs, as soon as their contracts come to an end, at the end of June.

“I understand their positions. They want to get the best deals that they can, but I’m working on a small budget trying to get quality players.”

It will be a big plus if Dunne can sign up Walker for another loan spell next season, especially if it is a season-long package.

The giant keeper played a key role in helping the U’s to avoid relegation, following his loan move from Chelsea in January.

The 21-year-old made 19 appearances for the U’s, and looks set for another loan deal away from Stamford Bridge next season.

Dunne revealed: “Sam returning to us is a strong possibility.

“I think we are in a good position. Sam enjoyed it with us last season. I think we treated him well, and his game certainly improved. He made good progress.

“It would be useful for him to make another move. I know that things can happen, and change, very quickly, but there is a strong chance of him returning,” added Dunne.

Front-runner Ibehre, after an initial loan spell from MK Dons, made the move permanent by signing a short-term contract in January.

Now the 30-year-old is a free agent again, considering a new longer term offer from the U’s. He ended last season as joint top scorer on eight goals, having scored twice on his debut against Hartlepool, which was also Dunne’s first match in charge.

“Jabo (Ibehre) is at the stage of his career when the next contract is a very important one, in terms of longevity,” continued Dunne.

“We have offered him a contract. We’ve been talking to his agent, but we can’t wait for ever. There will come a point when we have to move on, and consider other options.”

In addition to Ibehre and Eastmond, a third player was signed by Dunne on the day of the Dubliner’s appointment – winger Sanchez Watt.

Of Watt’s situation, Dunne said: “At the moment, Sanchez is still contracted to Arsenal. If he were to become available, we feel that we could offer him another good opportunity here, as with other young players at Premier League clubs.

“It’s a brave decision for a player to drop down a few divisions, and then go again, but history confirms it can be done.”

As regards the prospects of full-back White and keeper Cousins putting pen to paper, Dunne said: “The situation is still the same. Nothing has changed, with regards John and Mark. They want to find the best deals they can.”

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