For the second time in his career, the GWS Giants’ Jacob Hopper has been selected in the 40-man 22Under22 squad. He caught up with AFLPlayers.com.au to discuss the achievement, his season to date, and his love of Bondi Beach.
Kavisha Di Pietro: Congratulations on being selected in the 22Under22 40-man squad for the second year in a row. Is it a concept you’ve followed?
Jacob Hopper: It was something that I’ve been aware of. When it came to my attention it’s a nice little accolade and it’s great to get some recognition for your work. You’re in such good company, too, with other talented young players and especially being surrounded by mates who you’ve gone through the process of entering the AFL system with, seeing them playing good footy adds to it.
You’ve had a great season and are seventh in the AFL for contested possessions, how would you assess your 2019 season?
My first three years in the AFL I’ve had a lot of injuries and haven’t been able to get continuity in my game. It’s been nice to have a full pre-season and being fit and healthy, coupled with more opportunity in the midfield, has helped me sustain my consistency in my footy and that overall confidence around my game and my body.
You touched on your injuries a little bit, how do you adjust to the AFL when you do have those challenges early on in your career?
With injuries and interrupted pre-seasons, in those early years it was almost about trying to convince myself I had the work under my belt and to trust my ability. I think deep down I knew I was really just trying to convince myself and get through it. To have that reassurance in a pre-season, it fills you up with that confidence because you know you’ve done the work and your body can withstand the rigours of playing in the AFL. It’s a long season and can sometimes get to you a little bit so it’s nice to go into the year having the pre-season work under your belt.
The Giants midfield brigade have had a few injuries this season, with the likes of Stephen Coniglio, Josh Kelly and Cal Ward having significant periods on the sidelines. When those injuries occur, do you feel the pressure to step up a little bit?
Absolutely! But, as each year goes on there is that natural progression. Even with the boys being injured, they’re still around helping out and contributing to the group. With Cal going down, he’s such an important player to me both on and off the field, but to still have him around and be able to learn from him as much as possible is great. He’s been on the bench on game day and having someone like him there is really significant and helps me enormously with my game. He’s a great sounding board and a great guy too!
With a midfield group as impressive as the Giants’, who else do you look to as a mentor and to help you improve your game?
‘Cogs’ (Stephen Coniglio) and Josh Kelly, who are now more senior in our group, have been great to learn off and are awesome sounding boards to get opinions on how I can hone my own craft. Working closely with (midfield coach) Lenny Hayes is also really important to me. To be able to learn from a past player of his calibre is pretty unreal, to be honest. Tim Taranto and I, as the younger guys in that group, are just trying to be sponges as much as possible and learn as much as we can, taking everything on board.
How do you manage the pressure around the expectation to perform week-in, week-out?
Naturally, everyone wants to win games of footy and I think there is always going to be that internal dialogue element to it – you always want to perform well and want to win. I think the ability to park that as much as possible and focus on your role within the team and your different processes within that, is the key but also the challenge. To be able to do that and just focus on playing the game we love, because at the end of the day it’s why we play, is a really key factor. Going out there, trying to get a kick but also having some fun along the way is probably as simplified as it can get.
You’ve started to build your life here in Sydney and re-signed earlier this year with the Giants. Was that always part of your plan?
Absolutely! I’ve made some really good connections here at the club and have made some really great relationships here in Sydney that I don’t take lightly. At the end of the day, life is about the relationships you form and the bonds you make with the people around you, and the Giants have been a huge part of that. I’m comfortable in Sydney now and have adjusted to big city life. As a club we’re in a really good position to win games of footy, so it made the decision pretty easy.
The GWS Giants are known for their east-west Sydney divide. I hear you’re one to get the surfboard out ad frequent Bondi pretty regularly…
The beaches are great and I’ve managed to convince everyone I’m a surfer (laughs). But, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever really touched a surfboard – I’m a country boy at heart. Not many people know where Leeton (a town located in the Riverina region of southern NSW) is actually located so if I say I grew up near a beach, people tend to believe me. I do enjoy the beaches up here, they’re beautiful and there’s plenty to pick from!
Do you consider yourself part of the ‘Eastside’ contingent then?
I actually live in Sydney’s inner-west, so technically I’m a ‘Westie’ but only just!
What else does your life away from football look like?
I love going down to the court and having some shots of basketball. Heading down to the beaches is always fun, too!
I’m actually trying to get a dog at the minute and will eventually look to get a property as well, so I’m enjoying that field at the minute. I’m studying on the side through AFL SportsReady, which keeps me busy. At times I can be a bit footy, footy, footy, but I know how important it is to expand my skillset as much as possible so I’ve been spending some time working on that. It’s important to find some balance outside of the game.
Tim Taranto, Brent Daniels and Sam Taylor have also been nominated for 22Under22. Are you going to select them in your side or try and keep the bragging rights for yourself?
I’ll be voting for the boys, absolutely! They’ve all had great years and being at a smaller club we need as many votes as we can get!
Congratulations again Jacob and thanks for chatting!
No worries, thanks Kavisha.