Motor problem preventing my fishing

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I've got a late 80s modle mercury 9.8 hp outboard and has always run great up until a 1 year break in using it. It wouldnt start originally, cleaned the carbs and fired right up with the actual motor running great. Reverse gear, no matter what the RPM, its runs silently and smoothly while at the same time neutral at any time is quiet. Forward gear has a clanking noise which progressivly gets louder with rpm, and occassionally it will run quiet again momentarily until higher rpms where is seems to almost beging to "slip" and make these clanking noises really loud. Checked lower unit oil, none with little water so obviously the seals gone bad. I filled llower unit back up and briefly ran it to see if the sound was quieted temporarily but it was not. When dissassembling the lower unit without much knowledge of what I was doing, only thing I noticed that seemed possibly unusual was that the prop shaft did have a small bit of play on the in and out direction. Other than that the gears and all appeared to look ok. I know I need a lower unit seal, but do any of you have any ideas of what I could do to reslove the the problem so I can get back to my fishing? THanks again for any advice

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How are the bearings?

Any play would indicate them being worn.

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