2020 AFL Draft Media Opportunity
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 10: Braeden Campbell (L) of the Swans and Errol Gulden of the Swans pose for a photo during a media opportunity following the 2020 AFL Draft at Lakeside Oval on December 10, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

All-Australian Swan Errol Gulden believes he "definitely wouldn't have been playing AFL" if it wasn't for the Sydney Academy program.

Gulden joined the Swans Academy at the age of 10 and would feature throughout the club's development pathways system to earn a selection at the 2020 National Draft alongside fellow Academy graduate Braeden Campbell.

The duo have joined a prolific list of Swans stars that have linked up with the club's AFL squad as priority access players through the draft over the past decade, with the likes of Callum Mills, Isaac Heeney and Nick Blakey also remaining in the red and white as Academy alumni.

The Academy has seen the Swans wrestle with competing codes of rugby league, rugby union and soccer in New South Wales to secure talent, with Gulden himself seen as a promising potential soccer player.

His father, a past player for professional Turkish club Eyüpspor, believes the flashy midfielder should've stuck with the world game, however Gulden remains satisfied with his decision to continue honing his craft with the Sherrin. 

"Dad's still convinced I chose the wrong sport," Gulden told the Dyl and Friends podcast this week.

"I did play both until they started to clash. I just loved footy and soccer can be a bit political in Australia.

2020 AFL Draft Media Opportunity
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 10: Braeden Campbell (L) of the Swans and Errol Gulden of the Swans pose for a photo during a media opportunity following the 2020 AFL Draft at Lakeside Oval on December 10, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

"It was kinda of an easy decision. The culture around footy is a lot more inclusive and you can play off merit and to have fun. You make teams based off being a good player, whereas soccer can be a bit clouded in terms of other factors."

Gulden would feature for the Maroubra Saints and UNSW at the junior level, and would earn an invite to the Swans Academy at an early age to place him on a path to stardom in the AFL.

The third-year Swan said he wouldn't be playing at the elite level had it not been for the club and the Academy, noting some of the criticism the program received is perhaps misguided.

"It's an amazing program," Gulden added.

"I definitely wouldn't have been playing AFL without the Academy. The amount of work they do for footy in Sydney is amazing.

"I know there's a lot of people with opinions down here (Victoria) about the Swans getting access to players. I can only speak for myself but there's no way I'd be playing at the highest level without the Academy.

"One of the biggest advantages is in your first year with the transition into playing AFL. It's so much easier as you get to train with the boys in the 16's and 18's years, you meet the coaches and you feel way more comfortable.

"It's a massive advantage."

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 20: Errol Gulden of the Swans celebrates after kicking a goal during the round one AFL match between the Brisbane Lions and the Sydney Swans at The Gabba on March 20, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Mills and fellow co-captain Dane Rampe have been among the role models that have shaped Gulden into the player he has become, with the 21-year-old going on to earn an equal-fourth finish in this year's Brownlow count.

Having also known senior coach John Longmire since his junior days, Gulden has been able to rely on his mentor for advice at any stage of his career.

Gulden said the Swans premiership coach "doesn't get the credit he deserves", but is viewed as an "amazing leader" in the four walls at Moore Park.

"'Horse' is just such an amazing leader," Gulden said. "The connection that he has at the football club, particularly with players and staff, is amazing.

"Everyone that walks into the building wants to work hard and get results for 'Horse'. It's just the connection you build with him.

"I think he doesn't get the credit he deserves. I think it's because he's in Sydney, he's not very outspoken with the media and straight bats most things.

"He's an amazing coach. His ability to find ways to motivate us... just to connect what we're trying to do with other walks of life.

Sydney Swans coach John Longmire (Source: Phil Hillyard)

"I think we all kind of feel like we're his sons a bit as well. He probably feels that too. He's a reason why when we're struggling on the field he can steady the ship for us and always puts things in perspective that we're not necessarily far away from what we're trying to achieve."

Gulden firms as the favourite for Sydney's Bob Skilton Medal following his blistering 2023 campaign, with the Swans' best and fairest count to take place on Thursday, October 5.