GWENT hockey star Jacob Draper is trying to remember to stop and smell the roses, and the coffee.

The 24-year-old from Cwmbran has set up The Social Bean, a coffee trailer, with teammates David Goodfield and Chris Griffiths.

But the trio have been fuelled by more than just caffeine recently, with Great Britain competing in the upper reaches of the Pro League table as preparations for Paris 2024 gain steam.

“It's been a weird feeling if I'm honest,” Draper said. “Going from a team that is chasing other teams and trying to dethrone those teams to actually now being the team that people want to dethrone.

“It’s definitely a different approach, we're a very close-knit group and I don't think anyone's taking anything for granted here.

“We’re making sure that every game, we're not looking at the overall picture, we're looking at the next game, the next performance making sure that we play well.”

For Draper, this turnaround from the side’s quarter-final loss at the Tokyo Olympics has not been a quick fix, but the honing of connections built over years of friendship.

The midfielder was part of the Great Britain age-group set-up prior to making his senior debut in 2019, also representing Wales at two Commonwealth Games.

He added: “There's probably a mentality side of it. Our coach Paul Revington definitely has a talent for revving us up for a game and getting us motivated.

“But also, it is about how close the team is, a lot of us have grown up together and then, even if we didn’t even grow up together, we are still very close.

“I think that is the most obvious distinguisher between this group and pre-Tokyo. Every single player is very close to each other and even when we don’t have games, we are still socialising outside.”

Draper is one of over 1,000 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing him to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering medical support – this is vital for his pathway to the Paris 2024 Games.

And with the Paris 2024 Olympics only one year away, the Games are set to inspire people and communities all across the country. Draper hopes that by sharing his story it will give others motivation to get involved into sport.

Draper came up against many of his GB teammates at the 2022 Commonwealth Games and Hockey World Cup earlier this year as he played for Wales and they for England.

He believes England were the best team in the competition despite their quarter-final loss and even went as far as to admit that he will be cheering England on this summer, as long as they and Wales do not meet.

The two sides have been drawn in different groups for the EuroHockey Championships later this summer with victory there also securing Team GB a place at Paris 2024 next year.

“I'd be lying if I said I’m not backing England to do it because that provides us with the qualification for Paris, which I’ll hopefully be selected for,” Draper said.

“I’ll be focussed on Wales, and our performance, but I am blessed for once in that Wales and England aren’t playing against each other.

“It is probably the first time in the last four years at any major event that we’re not playing against each other in the group stage.

“That means I can watch and support from the background without the thought of ‘I’ve got to play those guys in a couple of days.’

“Hopefully the Welsh team can progress but also the England team can do as well as they can because that ultimately benefits the Welsh lads who are also in the GB set-up.”

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