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Jacob Draper - The hockey star who swapped football boots for a hockey stick

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Jacob Draper was once on the conveyor belt to becoming a professional footballer, but has no regrets he switched to hockey.

The Wales and Great Britain international was good enough with the larger round ball to be part of Cardiff City’s academy programme from the age of seven.

He did six years alongside a tiny handful who eventually made it into the professional ranks, but would not change a thing as he prepares for his second Commonwealth Games.

The switch in sports came when Draper was 13 and Cardiff’s coaches told him his growing interest in hockey had placed him at a crossroads.

“They found out I was playing hockey and they weren’t too impressed,” says Jacob, who was part of the GB squad at last year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“Even at the age of 13, in football you are contracted and you can’t do other things in case you get injured. Playing hockey comes with some risks attached and they were not happy.

“They basically suggested I make a choice between the sports and I chose hockey.”

It was a choice that possibly surprised the football club and its officials.

Draper grew up in Cwmbran, had attended a state school, and had no family background in hockey.

But he enjoyed the sport when he was introduced to it at school by an enthusiastic teacher - after a mate said the hockey team were short of players - and was soon rapidly improving at Gwent Hockey Club.

Initially, he admits, he gave it a try because it “looked like football with a stick” and says: “I played hockey as if I was playing football.”

Wales' Jacob Draper (in red) battles for the ball with a South African opponent (in green, wearing a white headguard).
Jacob Draper battling for the ball for Wales against South Africa.
When you’re a child you gravitate to what you enjoy. You have no other motive at the age of 12 or 13.
Jacob Draper

Later, the subtleties and skills of his new game became obvious and his talent blossomed further at Monmouth Comprehensive School.

Draper had shown ability at badminton and squash - and enjoyed both as well as football - but there was something about hockey that hooked him in.

“Football is incredibly competitive so that even boys who were the best in their districts, the best among thousands of other boys, never really make it.

“When you’re a child you gravitate to what you enjoy. You have no other motive at the age of 12 or 13.”

Word spread about the talented latecomer to the sport and he was offered a scholarship to go to a private school in England, Rossall School, near Blackpool.

 “I couldn’t really turn it down.

“My parents were both from a working class background and had never been to a private school. It was a great opportunity and I felt I couldn’t say no.”

This month the escape of hockey will be on the playing fields at Birmingham and the chance for Draper to pull on the red shirt for Wales.

It’s an opportunity the 24-year-old will relish and he admits the buzz of excitement is different to playing for Team GB.

“For me, personally, playing for Wales feels a lot different.

“I’m a very proud Welshman. I was born and bred and raised in Wales.

“It was obviously an unbelievable honour for me to go to the Olympics. It was my long-term goal and it probably came to me sooner than I expected.

“But I was also blessed by being with Wales in the Gold Coast four years ago. The Australians do tournaments so well, it felt like a mini-Olympics.

“There’s also a different mentality. With Wales, singing the Welsh anthem is different. It gives me shivers and every time I hear it, I’m ready to go to war.”

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