THE regeneration of the Sydney squad could take another significant step forward this weekend, when the top prospects at the Sydney Swans Academy test themselves against the GWS Giants Academy in Blacktown.
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The U18 Swans will be led by AFL Draft hopefuls Braeden Campbell and Errol Gulden in a further-reduced version of the Northern Academy Series that was scheduled to be played this month. The series will now only involve two matches between the AFL-affiliated academies from the same state.
The academy matches will be a rare opportunity for elite junior talent to try to impress recruiters this season, as many junior competitions across the country have been suspended or cancelled, including all competitions in Victoria, because of COVID-19. The NEAFL competition has also been cancelled this year.
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The Swans might have to match a top-10 bid for Campbell in this year’s AFL Draft, as his pace and penetrating kicking is likely to appeal to recruiters. He helped his draft prospects when he was best-on-ground in the NAB All Stars Futures match on AFL Grand Final day last year.
Gulden plays his best football in the midfield – whether as an inside mid or on the wing – but would be expected to start life at AFL level as a small forward. He showed his potential last year when best afield as a 17-year-old in the Grand Final of the Sydney Premier League, the top competition in the city.
Great mates Campbell and Gulden warmed up for the academy matches by facing each other in that same local competition last weekend. Both showed plenty of class, but Gulden especially stood out in a best-on-ground display, as his UNSW-Eastern Suburbs side defeated Pennant Hills by 27 points.
With their close bond and many years of training and playing together at the Swans Academy, the 18-year-olds were able to identify what the other would bring to the match last weekend and the upcoming contests between the Swans and Giants academies.
"Braeden gives lots of pressure and is a really good left foot kick. I always expect him to get his hands on the footy and probably kick a couple of long goals," Gulden said about Campbell.
In response, Campbell said that Gulden "is a workhorse, gets from contest to contest, has unreal aerobic fitness and his use of the football is pretty elite".
Campbell and Gulden joined the Swans Academy at the same time, as under 11s, and both are full of praise for the program that has nurtured their talents.
"It has been really good for my development, I wouldn’t be where I am without the Swans Academy. They’ve taught us lots of professionalism, both on and off the field," Gulden said.
"It has been a really big part of my career so far, and allowed me to create a lot of great friendships with coaches and players. It has been really huge for me.”
Campbell added that the Swans Academy offers not only a pathway toward the top level, but also an insight into what it means to play for the AFL club.
"I’ve been honoured to play with the Academy from such as young age," he said.
"Being with them for so long now, I sort of understand the culture that the Swans seniors live for, that’s been passed down to the Academy."