Errol Gulden celebrates a goal for Sydney against Fremantle in R19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

HE WAS one of the sensations of 2023 and he's ready to back it up. In the first of Cal's Q&As for this season, Sydney star Errol Gulden chatted with Cal Twomey ahead of the Swans' Opening Round clash with Melbourne.

Gulden explains his sharp rise as one of the AFL's elite midfielders, his case of 'impostor syndrome', the work behind his early success, the pressure to back it up, his contract and footy heroes, as well as pitbulls, poodles, Johnny Drama, Taylor Swift and embracing being Errol.

Opening the first Opening Round on a Thursday night. How is the SCG going to be? 
I spoke at a members function in Melbourne recently and I know a lot of people in Victoria are a little bit annoyed the traditional opening game is not down there. But being from Sydney, and I put myself in the shoes of the 12, 13, 14-year-old kids who love footy up here, it's going to be so amazing for them. The first game is one of the biggest games of the year outside of finals, everyone's keen to watch it, so I'm stoked to be playing in it.

Tell us about the ambitions within Sydney this year after last year's early finals exit. 
It was obviously disappointing last season. We didn't quite reach the expectations that we had on ourselves. I wouldn't say that we've spoken about winning the premiership and stuff like that, because if you go about it that way it's probably the wrong way. We've been just more focused on process. We're all really excited and we've got some really handy recruits too. 

How important can they be? What's it been like to be at the feet of Brodie Grundy?
It's been unbelievable. He's made such a massive difference already. It's amazing having a ruckman of that calibre tapping it down your throat and the value that he, Tay (Adams) and Jimmy (Jordon) have as well in and around team meetings is huge. They come from really successful clubs so they bring in nuggets of gold and fresh ideas to the place. James Jordon has probably gone under the radar but he's been unbelievable this pre-season and I think he'll feature pretty heavily for us. 

James Jordon competes with Brodie Grundy during Sydney's training session on January 19, 2024. Picture: Phil Hillyard

Everybody has spoken about you as a pre-season standout in continuing on from last year and you've already showed that. What's been front of mind for you over summer?
It's just to double down on what makes me, me. It's always good to try and get a little fitter, bigger and stronger, and I've had a bit of a focus on trying to improve the inside part of my game. If I can do that it will only help me. But it's also just doubling down on what makes me the player I am and really focusing on that, because sometimes you get bogged down in what you're not so good at and always try to improve that. But it's just as important on the other side to focus on what makes you good. 

What does make you, you?
It's hard to put my finger on one thing. Probably how I see and read the game and combine that with my running ability. That generally holds me in pretty good stead and using my kicking skills to open the game up. 

So how often were you in 'pitbull mode' or 'poodle mode'? Can you explain that one…
Not too often in pitbull mode during pre-season. It's some [terminology] we use with different types of dogs to match a different type of aggression we want to use against each other at training. In pre-season we don't really get into pitbull mode (the highest competitive level of training) too often. 

What's the dog in the middle of the pitbull and poodle intensity rankings?
Maybe a kelpie, something like that. That's pretty fitting for pre-season – lots of running and not too much contact. 

It was an incredible season for you last year – best and fairest, All-Australian, top-five in the Brownlow Medal. Can you describe why you felt yourself go to that elite level so quickly?
It's pretty hard to explain it. There were times I was pinching myself last year. I was standing next to (Marcus) Bontempelli, (Nick) Daicos and blokes like that at the All-Australian night and I had a bit of impostor syndrome I think. 

Definitely a little bit. It's pretty easy in Sydney to stay away from the media stuff and you can kind of escape it which works in my favour. And then with that type of night you see those names and pinch yourself. To be honest the accolades aren't something I put much thought into. I love going out there with my best mates and playing footy on the weekends and all the other stuff that comes as a result is what it is. Nothing's really changed for me from when I was 14 or 15 and playing with a smile on my face and wanting to win every week. If I keep that attitude it will hold me in good stead.

I remember seeing you during the Brownlow count and you seemed a little shocked that you were getting so close. Fair assessment? 
Yeah, 100 per cent. Definitely. 

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What was that night like?
I'm not just saying this, but I genuinely thought maybe if I came in the top 15 or 20 that would be pretty cool. But it snuck up on me pretty quick. I was actually shitting myself to be honest. I was quite uncomfortable with it all. Towards the last couple of rounds I did an interview and the cameras were all there and I didn't like it that much. Looking back it was such a fun night and we had a great table. 

Errol Gulden during the 2023 Brownlow Medal at Crown Palladium. Picture: AFL Photos

You quickly became a favourite player last year for lots of Swans fans but non-Swans fans and even opposition players. Zak Butters last year in these Q&As mentioned you as a player he enjoyed watching. Did you feel that sentiment grow?
It's a hard question to answer, because the main goal of anyone playing footy isn't necessarily to be liked by people. You just want to be respected and if they respect the way I go about it then it means a lot to me. I go out there and be me and I don't really like putting it on too much, which is how it shows up on the weekend. That's the way I am. To hear blokes like Zak Butters say that is pretty cool. 

Did you think you could reach that level as quickly as you did?
I always had confidence in myself and my ability. Whether deep down I truly believed I'd be able to do that that early, probably not. But it goes to show I've got some amazing people around me who point me in the right direction and help me get the most out of myself. I'm also at a place where it's easy to be inspired and that probably helped me get to that level quicker than I probably thought was possible. 

At just 21, a season like that brings expectations to keep getting better and better. Do you welcome those?
Yeah, bloody oath I do. One hundred per cent I do. It does weigh on me a bit but I'd be kidding myself if I said I didn't want to be in this position. To be playing for this amazing football club as well and be part of such an exciting team is [great] and I think we can be at the pointy end of the season, which is why I want to build on it. I want team success, I want a premiership, I want to win multiple premierships. If I can keep that at the forefront and not worry about individual things and what other people are saying externally it will hold me in good stead. 


It's also a contract year for you. How do you want to play that out?
It went under the radar for a little bit which was nice but I'm very happy with how things are going and obviously love this footy club. I've been around here a long time and probably sound like a broken record but it will sort itself out in due course.

Let's go back to 2020. You've had a couple of amazing years ahead of the draft and then slip through to pick 32 before a bid comes on you. Did that sting?
I could not care less what draft pick I went. If the bid had have come a little bit earlier I might not have ended up at the Swans, so in a way I'm very, very grateful it didn't come until a bit later. I don't put any thought into it. I'm happy at the club I'm at and I wouldn't have wanted it to pan out any other way. 

Your size was the question clubs had. What did you do as a junior to get around that? 
I didn't even know it was an issue until I was going through the draft. I think it was the only question mark and people, rightly so, could ask how that could translate into AFL footy, but when I was coming through blokes like Caleb Daniel had an All-Australian year in 2020 and won a best and fairest. My brother played footy with him at South Adelaide and I saw how he went about it. It never ever bothered me and it never will.  


Kicking has clearly been a big part of your success. How did you perfect it?
The biggest thing is having volume of kicks and practising. But one size doesn't fit all with kicking – the best kicks in the competition have their own method or ball drop or the way they hold the footy. It's about finding something comfortable for you and working on it over and over and backing yourself in. 

You say 'volume'. Do you know how many kicks you have a week at training?
I get pulled back a bit now otherwise I'd be out there kicking 24/7. I'm not too sure, probably more than a couple of hundred. 

Errol Gulden during Sydney's training session at the SCG on August 10, 2023. Picture: Phil Hillyard

Who did you idolise as a player growing up? You were a big Carlton fan weren't you?
I loved Chris Judd and Marc Murphy and in more recent times I loved Sam Walsh and 'Crippa' (Patrick Cripps). In my last couple of years before I got drafted and even my first couple of years in the AFL, 'Walshy' was one of my favourite players to watch. He still is, he's an absolute freak.

Tell us about the footy within your family. Your sister Senna played in the SANFL Grand Final last year and you travelled over to Adelaide to watch. Your mum Bronwyn is an assistant with the AFLW Swans side. You've mentioned your brother Adam's career.  

Mum's from Bendigo in country Victoria and her dad, my grandfather, was involved very heavily – playing, coaching, doing pretty much every job – at the Bridgewater Footy Club in the Loddon Valley league up there. Mum instilled the footy in me. My dad wanted me to chase the round ball and probably my bank account wishes I did go play soccer in Europe but maybe if I have kids I'll steer them in that direction. Mum didn’t get to play when she was growing up but always loved footy and managed to play a couple of women's division two games in 2020 aged 54, which is amazing. Give mum a plug. She's a backs coach in the AFLW side, my sister played in Adelaide last year and my brother played several seasons for South Adelaide and in my first two years at the Swans he was the VFL captain, so it was good to have him around. Footy has always been a massive part of my family. I have always loved kicking the footy on Christmas day with my family. 


What's your first memory of finding Errol was an uncommon name? Did you embrace it early on?
I've always loved my name. I'm very, very, very thankful for my parents picking my name. When I was really young I might've had a stage where I was like 'This is weird, why don't I have a name like Jack or John or something?' But I'm very thankful for it. The only thing is maybe we need to tone down how much we use the song by Aussie Crawl. I'm very grateful my parents chose my name. 

How many times does the song get sung at you? 
I do love it, I can't lie. It is pretty cool, especially at the SCG and if I manage to get on the end of one and kick a goal they play it over the speakers. If I hear it lots it means I'm kicking a few goals so I won't say I don't like it.

Have you met any babies named after you yet?
Not any babies, but have had a few dogs and cats and pets, which is a little bit different. 

You're a music aficionado. What are you listening to at the moment? Can you play any instrument?
At the moment I've been smacking Taylor Swift. I went to see her show and I'd definitely give it 10 out of 10. She was amazing, I'd say it's right up there with the live shows I've been to. Outside of that, I've been loving Arctic Monkeys and Sam Fender. They're probably the three I've been going back to of late. I played guitar a little bit when I was in primary school and would do lessons every Friday, but I dropped off a bit. A few of the boys up here have some DJ decks so we go around to each others' houses and play around with them a little bit. We're all terrible at it but it's good fun. But unfortunately I stopped playing guitar which I do regret. 

Errol Gulden poses during Sydney's 2024 team photo day at Sydney Swans HQ on January 16, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

A question you've probably not had before: why Johnny Drama?
I'm sure you're referring to my Instagram DP… I just love Entourage. I've watched it through probably five or six times and I think he's just one of the great characters in all of TV. Me and a couple of my good mates from school, and Paddy McCartin as well, we're always sending each other clips of Drama and all of the Entourage scenes and have a bit of a giggle whenever I see it. I watched the scene the other day when Matt Damon does his cameo.  

Who would be the Swans' Entourage equivalent?
I'd say Drama would be Chad (Warner). 'Turtle' would be Sam Wicks. I think I'd be 'E' and then I reckon Tommy McCartin would be Vince. 

Clearly you're pretty interested in pop culture. Did your mind ever wander to what you'd be doing if footy wasn't on your radar?
I stopped uni a couple of years ago, it wasn't really my thing. If I wasn't playing footy I'd probably find myself living overseas and doing something over there. I'm not too sure what my calling is away from footy, but I'm only 21 and have a lot of time to work out what I'd do post-footy. I do love travelling and if I wasn't playing footy I'd probably be living overseas and exploring around.

It would be in Liverpool, wouldn't it? You have spent a fair bit of time following the soccer team around.
It probably would be. I'd be based over there going on day trips to Paris and stuff like that. I've been over there to watch them play the past two off-seasons and seen them over there four or five times. It started when I was 14 and saw my first game over there and I've been back a couple of times since. I went with my brother the last game of the 2018/19 season and Liverpool was a point behind Man City going into the last game and my brother and I flew over there for the weekend and watched them win but unfortunately Man City won as well. I love going over and watching not just Liverpool, but all my football. AC Milan are also a favourite so I get there and watch them most off-seasons. 

Liverpool currently on top of the Premier League table. Have you considered the possibility of a Liverpool/Sydney title/premiership double?
Yeah I'd love that. If you look at the past few years our teams have kind of mirrored each other in terms of performance – we both had a less than ideal year last year and they've had a good year this year. If we can mirror that and both win our respective or win a couple of trophies between us it would be really good.