Errol Gulden has been recognised as the AFL Players’ Best First-Year Player, presented by Snaffle. Sydney Swans academy coach Jared Crouch and close friend Braeden Campbell gave aflplayers.com.au an insight into how Gulden’s work-rate, skill, and outgoing nature.
Small stature, big heart.
It might be the best way to describe this season’s best first-year player, Errol Gulden.
At 176cm, his height was perhaps the only question mark hanging over his well-rounded repertoire as last year’s AFL Draft approached.
But Swans academy coach, Jared Crouch — a man as qualified as any to quell the misinformed fears over size — always knew Gulden, his former student, was going to make it.
“If you can find the footy and you can use it well, you’re going to do that at the next level,” said the 172-centimetre Crouch, who suited up for Sydney 223 times himself.
“He’s never been the tallest person around, but he’s always been able to find plenty of the football.
“He’s always thought a bit quicker than the other kids. He’s always getting into the right spots, and he’s confident in using his voice to direct players around and to demand the football.”
For what Gulden lacks in size he makes up for in skill, but the most prominent aspect of his game — and his character — is defined by his will to succeed.
“Errol has always been a determined kid,” Crouch said.
“Each player has their own strengths, and they’ve all done different things to get to where they are, but what they haven’t done is tried to find shortcuts. Each player has worked hard in their own right, and Errol’s a great example of that.
“We always talk about how Isaac Heeney would kick the ball up and take 100 marks before going in to finish training, and now, we also talk about Errol and his work rate. He was always in the top couple for the two-kilometre time trial.”
Gulden wasted no time storming onto the big stage.
He combined 19 disposals with three goals as Sydney stunned the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba in round one, and backed up the impressive debut with 22 touches and a major the following week.
For a player selected at pick 32, the Swans had a steal.
But in the academy, he had long been viewed as a standout prospect.
“Errol and Braeden Campbell were always the two,” said Crouch. “The type of players that you remember from long before they came into our top-end program. You knew about them, and you knew that they were a couple of good little players.
“We brought both Errol and Braeden up into the under 16s a year early, and they were among the best players there.
“Errol continued to get 30-plus possessions, and when you’re playing at that level — getting that many touches — you’re doing something right.”
“He could talk to a pole on the street and have a proper conversation with it. He’s got a unique gift of being able to talk to absolutely anyone.” – Braeden campbell on errol gulden.
Campbell, a fellow first-year Swan who produced a head-turning opening season of his own, knew Gulden was a star-in-the-making when the pair met at an academy trial. At that time, they were just 11 years old.
“I knew straight away that he was a gun at footy. He could just do everything. He could mark, tackle, he could run,” Campbell recalled.
Campbell concedes he and Gulden are polar-opposite personalities, but ironically, he believes it’s what binds them together.
“In a weird sort of way it brought us closer together. He’s definitely more open than what I am with people,” Campbell explained.
“He could talk to a pole on the street and have a proper conversation with it. He’s got a unique gift of being able to talk to absolutely anyone. That’s something that I don’t have, so he probably leans towards me when he’s talking a bit too much so that I can sort of quieten him down, and then when I’m not talking enough, he can make me talk more.”
Gulden’s voice is not the only means by which he expresses himself — “He’s had blonde hair, pink hair, mullets, he’s had a buzz cut, he’s had the whole lot”, according to Campbell — and despite being a first-year player, the 19-year-old is as extroverted as ever in the AFL environment.
“He hasn’t changed one bit, which is kudos to him. He’s a confident person who’s always willing to talk to people. “
Gulden finished the season with 18 games, averaging an impressive blend of 11 kicks, five marks and three tackles per match.
“I try to improve every session, and it’s all based off the way he attacks his AFL,” Campbell said. “He knows he’s a bit smaller than everyone else, but he doesn’t let that impact the way he plays footy.
“He’s always ready to turn up to training, and he makes the most of every training session.
“His work ethic is second to none.”