Kevin Gray was one of the most influential defenders, finest captains and best characters in Carlisle United's recent history. He was not, though, infallible.

Against Cheltenham, in January 2006, for instance, when he headed an own-goal equaliser for the visitors at Brunton Park. Against Millwall, the following October, he left another header woefully short, allowing the Lions' Poul Hubertz to score the winner.

The man he was, Gray would come up to the back of the Main Stand afterwards to talk about these blunders. Swerving a media request after a bad day wasn't his thing. He explained things straight, without fear of agenda, and then moved on.

There were not many occasions like this, it should be said, because the real measure of Gray was the fact he lifted two league promotion trophies in nearly four years at Brunton Park, having done as much as anyone to secure both. Of all the players released by the club in the last 11 years, nothing jarred quite as much as the cutting loose of the Yorkshireman in 2007.

This is not a heavy criticism of the manager who made that call - Neil McDonald - who clearly felt Gray had gone beyond his time as a regular pick. Others would no doubt have acted similarly. The decision was not, though, universally popular inside Brunton Park and one could understand why.

It was not that Gray was perfect, built never to decline. It was who he was and what he stood for. It was the fact he had, for so long, not just represented the very best of Carlisle United, but carved and defined that success.

Could there not have been a role for such a person beyond that summer of '07? Could he not have been embraced for longer, somehow? Was there not a way to gently ease his playing career into something beyond the pitch at Brunton Park, so that this outstanding figure could be kept on board?

There were those that always felt so, and the thought returns to mind now that we may be seeing the last weeks of Clint Hill in a blue shirt. One sincerely hopes that we are not, and that everyone concerned recognises that this should be a decision made in the round, not purely based on a play-off push that looks ever more remote.

As with Gray, the idea that Hill is error-proof in Keith Curle's back four is bogus, bearing in mind the mistake that handed Port Vale the advantage at Brunton Park in December. Like Gray, though, his slips are easily recalled because they are so rare, and there can be no argument against the idea that United have been better for his presence throughout 2017/18.

In 37 Hill appearances, Carlisle have kept 14 clean sheets. Their 51 points from his 33 league games produces an average that would put them much closer to the play-offs than their overall figures. Then there is the way his experience has brought the best out of others, notably Gary Liddle.

Because team-mates have got better because of Hill, rather than the other way around, crowning the 39-year-old as United's player of the year ought to be the easy bit this spring. A little harder is what to do next, but even that's not too difficult: just keep him.

Keep him as a player, if he wishes to continue with boots on, and if he doesn't, keep him anyway. Build an aspect of Carlisle United around him. Think very hard about how you go out into the "meat market" (Chris Lumsdon's term) of available lower-league personnel and find someone else with Hill's bearing, his principles, his example to others - particularly young players - at this level of the game.

The fact Hill has been encouraged along his early coaching journey by Curle at Carlisle ought to be an open goal. He is already on the premises, and, like Gray, like Derek Mountfield (another defensive sage too readily discarded, in 1995), people of this calibre simply do not grow on trees.

Nigel Clibbens, United's chief executive, was on Monday at pains to point out that only the club's manager would make decisions on players' futures. As a director, he "never has and never will" had the say on such matters. And that is right and proper for any club wanting stability, and harmony, between boardroom and dugout.

At the same time, this is not just any out-of-contract pro. A blindfolded person down a manhole could see the value of retaining Hill, and getting him to the table now would not necessarily be a case of Clibbens overruling Curle (or a possible successor) on who is the best assessor of a centre-half. It could be a deeper judgement.

In 2010, when offering him a new playing contract, Carlisle also wanted to make Ian Harte an "ambassador" for the club. It did not work out that way, since Reading then moved for the defender, but the thought was good. Harte was, at United's level, box office; an illustrious player with a great deal to share.

Had he remained, and had Carlisle's results tanked in a way that could have cost manager Greg Abbott his job at that time, would anyone have objected had Harte continued spreading his wisdom and knowledge around the club and community? Would the fact he was embedded into Brunton Park have put any sensible successor's nose out of joint? Hardly.

Some things are above managerial whim, and into this bracket can fall the decision on Hill, who could, with very little encouragement, be presented for the longer-term as United's best and most professional face, both in-house and beyond, a "pillar and foundation", as Curle likes to say; a touchstone for others who want to know what an excellent career looks like and how to achieve it.

Too many of these people are being lost to the game, in central positions at least. It cannot be right, for instance, that Graham Kavanagh, having become Pro Licence-qualified over several coaching years with Carlisle, is no longer near anyone's front line.

His year in charge at Brunton Park could hardly be described as a success, and appears to have proved costly. But has he nothing else to offer players, based on an excellent and durable career, not to mention a path into coaching that was progressing just fine until United's fall of 2013-14?

Management can torch reputations, and Hill will have to be conscious of that when he eventually makes such a move. But that may be years away and, until then, football ought to find all ways possible to drain every drop from him. Given he is already in their grasp, Carlisle would be foolish to let this great old pro drift away.