Just over a year ago, Jacob Draper was halfway through his final year of studying at Swansea University.
Since then he has inspired Wales to a sixth-placed finish at the 2019 EuroHockey Championships, helped Great Britain qualify for Tokyo 2020 and played against Australia in his first ever FIH Hockey Pro League matches.
It has certainly been a whirlwind few months for the former Gwent Hockey Club defender, making the transition from student to full-time hockey player, but it’s a journey that he has loved every second of so far.
“It’s been tough and a bit of a shock in terms of the workload because you’ve got pitch sessions every day where you’re always trying to get better and better,” the 21-year-old said.
“It’s been amazing to play every day and to play hockey as your full time job. The boys have been amazing, getting me involved with everything and making the transition so seamless.
“Now it’s just getting used to the expectation of going to these FIH Hockey Pro League games, putting in good performances and expecting to win so it acts as a building block for the end; making sure that as a squad we’re all in the best position possible so that we can turn up into that Olympic Games, put in the best performance possible and hopefully win a medal.”
Last weekend’s matches were the first time that Draper had ever faced Australia in a senior international match.
It was certainly a baptism of fire too both literally and metaphorically, playing in temperatures reaching 45C on the Saturday against a team who had reached the world number one ranking for a period not long before.
However he more than held his own across both games, particularly in the thrilling 4-4 draw that saw Great Britain’s men secure their first point of this year’s tournament.
“It was pretty surreal to be honest” the Hampstead & Westminster player recalled.
“I was massively nervous – they had a big crowd and a pretty good set up there. The result puts a bit of a gloomer on the first game, how we let a two-goal lead slip, but the whole experience was amazing.
“The Aussies were physical as I was told – they didn’t disappoint in that regard. But it was really nice to be in that position to compete with the very best in the world.”
Even though he is still finding his feet in the world of international hockey, Draper is already harbouring big ambitions for the immediate and distant future.
From a personal perspective this includes making it into the final 16 who will be selected to go to Tokyo this summer.
But further on from that he is also hoping that the recent growth in the number of Welsh players representing Great Britain will prove to future generations that the opportunities for them are there if they work hard enough.
“I’d be lying if I said the long term would be anything other than winning an Olympic medal,” he said.
“Standing on that podium will be one of the best feelings you can ever have and that’s for any athlete – it’s the pinnacle to be an Olympian and to win a medal.
“Being very proudly Welsh, historically there’s not been very many of us in this team and now that there’s two of us in the men’s team [Draper and Rupert Shipperley], the age group athletes coming up can see that it can happen and know if they keep going, keep digging in then we can definitely get more numbers in this team.
“Hopefully I can inspire more Welsh people to be in the GB team and create an expectation that there will be more and not as a token but as players who are good enough and impact the team.”
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