What I Love About My Club In 2024 – Sydney Swans

Heading into the 2024 AFL Season, it is easy to get carried away with off-season recruits, big pre-seasons and player position changes that might cloud our judgement of realistic expectations. Therefore, I will be continuing this trend by ranting and raving about my beloved Sydney Swans.

As someone who firmly believes that you don’t choose your football team, I was pretty lucky to be brought up in a Swans family and have seen more success than most over the past 20 years.

After making the Grand Final in 2022, things just didn’t go right for the Swans last year as a slow start left them out of the hunt early in the season. But after a big off-season and another year into a bunch of developing young stars, I’ve got my expectations up once again. So, below are a few of the many things that I’m excited about the mighty Bloods in 2024:


How good can Errol Gulden get?

When discussing the Swans, where else can you start? The steal of the 2020 draft, Gulden burst onto the scene, as two Brownlow votes in his debut gave us a glimpse of what was to come. An academy product, many had doubts over Gulden’s size at just 175cm, but it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t going to affect his game. At that size in order to survive in the AFL, you need both excellent ball skills and a lot of heart, something that Gulden has in spades.

When watching the young Swan, it is clear that he has something that few others have, his left foot. Most Swans’ fans would argue that he is the best kick in the competition and as one of them, I agree. With the confidence to back it up, Gulden is able to hit passes no one else on the ground can see as he splits defences apart. For the Swans forwards, there must not be many better feeling than seeing Gulden looking inside 50.

After seeing plenty of quality throughout the first two years of his career, it was clear that the coaches saw copious amounts of potential in Errol Gulden as he came into 2023. A role change was apparent in a pre-season match against Carlton as he collected 45 disposals and three goals in preview of the season to come.

I think if you asked the man himself what position he plays, he probably couldn’t tell you and as a Swans fan I love it, he’s allowed to roam the ground freely to get the footy as much as possible. Regularly throughout 2023, he would repeatedly find himself involved multiple times in the same passage of play as teammates would search for him as they clearly trust his decision making and ability with the football.

By the end of the season, Gulden exceeded all expectations both internally and externally as the awards followed. A first-time All-Australian, Bob Skilton Medallist and a fourth placed finish in the Brownlow Medal saw him recognised as one of the best in the competition.

Heading into 2024, suddenly the expectations are even higher on the 21-year-old.

Wondering how he would improve in the off-season, it was exciting to see him win the 2km time trial back in January, with his uncontested work such a critical part of his game. Whilst many youngsters work their way into the midfield as they build into their career, Gulden’s frame and skillset suit an outside role. Despite attending 36% of the centre bounces last season, expect Gulden to spend less time in the middle this season as a result of the off-season recruitment of Taylor Adams and James Jordon, however the injuries to Mills and Parker may compromise that early on.

After emerging as such a vital part of the Swans system, it is almost certain that Gulden will face more attention and even the occasional tag in 2024. But after seeing some of the unbelievable things he has done so far in his career, I am sure he will be able take his game to even greater heights this season.


Playing with a premier ruckman

When the Swans signed Tom Hickey back in 2020, myself and a lot of other Swans fans were pretty sceptical about the move. But after 49 games and a trip to the Grand Final, it was tough to see him go at the end of last season. While Hickey wasn’t the greatest ruckman statistically, he became a cult figure at the Swans and had a crack every week until his body let him down.

However, when reports began circulating that the Swans were in the mix for Brodie Grundy last season, I couldn’t help but get excited. The two-time All-Australian was one of best players in the competition during his time at Collingwood. But the decision to go to Melbourne last year to split ruck time with Max Gawn will probably be something he regrets.

The Swans midfield problems were well publicised in 2023, as they had the second worst clearance differential in the AFL. Nearly every week the Swans seemed to surrender a comfortable lead as they were constantly under pressure due to their inability to win a clearance late in the game.

With this is mind, the Swans attacked the off-season looking for ready-made solutions and a late season push saw them land arguably the biggest fish of the trade period.

After years of media scrutiny in Melbourne, Grundy mentioned that the lifestyle change is what drew him to Sydney as he hopes to get out of the public eye to focus on his football. Described as a ‘fourth midfielder’ by Collingwood teammates in the past, Grundy seems to be exactly what the Swans need as he pairs up with former teammate Taylor Adams to address the midfield issues.

Back to playing as the number one ruckman with a mouth-watering clash against the old mob in the season opener, Grundy has a chance to make a statement and take the Swans to another level in 2024.


A splash of experience in the young forward line

I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago about how the young talls are the key to the success of this forward line. But I’m not going to write a bunch of the same stuff here, so I’ll focus on another part of the forward line, the experience.

Whilst the likes of Tom Papley and Isaac Heeney don’t quite qualify as experienced at the age of 27, it’s fellow All-Australian Luke Parker who looks set for a different role in 2024. At 31, the three-time Bob Skilton Medallist looks set to be pushed out of the midfield this season as he spends more time forward. Of course, breaking your arm in a pre-season game sets that back for a while, but by the time he returns, the midfield group may well be settled, allowing him the chance to start forward.

Down heavily at half time against the Blues in the finals last season, a move to send the veteran forward proved a masterstroke, as he upset the Carlton defensive structure, kicking two goals as the Swans almost pulled off an unlikely comeback.

With the Swans recruitment and development focused heavily on the next wave of inside midfielders, 2024 looks to be the year where Parker plays a different role. At just 183cm, Parker is a surprisingly strong contested mark as he is always willing to put his body on the line for the team. With multiple bags of five goals across his career, Parker has proven he can hit the scoreboard and with a career goal kicking accuracy of 60%, he is well above the AFL average.

Whilst expecting him to have the impact of a Dustin Martin or Patrick Dangerfield may be a bit far-fetched, Parker has the quality and skillset to play a really important hybrid role in 2024, something he will need to prolong his career.

A quick note – I am also keen to see if Sam Reid can get his body right this season. An integral part of the 2022 Grand Final side, many fans forget his importance after he missed the entirety of last season.

A solid mark and kick in the forward line, Reid’s importance may come on the other side of the ball, as an experience swingman he regularly goes into defence at the back end of quarters. While he won’t be in the starting 22 in round one, a strong start in the VFL is needed from the veteran, who may be needed at some point this season.


The other lethal left-footers

Whilst Errol Gulden rightly gets all the credit for his elite kicking skills, he isn’t the only Swan with a deadly left peg, as the likes of Nick Blakey and Braeden Campbell regularly split the opposition apart.

Drafted as a key forward, The Lizard has made the backline his own in recent season as he is given the licence to burst through the middle of the ground using his game-breaking speed. He took the most kick-ins for the Swans last season as the new protection rules allow him to gain maximum territory, something he took advantage of as he regularly went straight up the middle.

While he looks unorthodox and often uncontrolled, he has clearly been given the green light to break the lines, with his end-to-end goal in the practice match against the Giants enough to get anyone excited for what’s to come.

Another Swans player set for a big 2024 is Braeden Campbell. Taken at pick five in 2020, the 21-year-old played in all but one game last season as he established himself on the wing and across the half-backline. With high hopes of him eventually moving into the midfield, I’m not sure he’s ready yet.

While the temptation is there to throw him forward due to his ability to hit the scoreboard from anywhere inside 60, his ability to clear the defensive press makes him a much more valuable asset down back. As is always the case, with another pre-season he will improve on the little things, but in 2024 I’m excited to see how much he wants to take the game on.


Angus Sheldrick and Matt Roberts

With all the press surrounding the Swans recruitment to address their clearance issues, the youngsters coming through have gone slightly under the radar. Both Angus Sheldrick and Matt Roberts are entering their third AFL season, but despite dominating the VFL each week, they have had limited opportunities in the senior side, playing just 17 games between them.

Over a four-match stretch last season, Sheldrick looked like the inside midfielder that the Swans had been calling out for, averaging 22 disposals and five tackles per game before an ankle injury cut his season short in round 17.

With nine matches to his name, Sheldrick is actually still eligible for the Rising Star, something that may gather traction if he returns to the form that he showed last season.

All reports are that finally given a full preseason, Sheldrick is impressing those within the club as his clean hands and strength on the ball are key strengths that will push his case for selection this year.

Given the number 12 previously worn by Josh Kennedy, the pressure is on the youngster to become an inside bull, but we have to wait and see whether he will be given a run through the middle this season.

Similarly, Matt Roberts has also shown a bit of promise running through the middle. With a career-high of just 14 disposals his numbers don’t quite stack up to Sheldrick’s but when used as a sub, he has been far more impactful.

He also had an injury affected 2023, with a knee injury keeping him out of action for the majority of the season but given a full preseason, he is expected to put the pressure on for a spot in the starting 22.

Assistant coach Dean Cox referred to his preseason as “phenomenal” as he has “ticked every box”, suggesting that he is set for a big 2024.

After injuries tore apart the Swans season in 2023, I am excited to see some depth in critical positions. While neither of these two were ever guaranteed a spot in the opening round, injuries to both Callum Mills and Luke Parker have opened the door for them.

Sometimes, all a player needs is an opportunity. Right now, that opportunity is ready and waiting for these two to seize it.