South African goalkeeper Cullin de Jager aims for World Cup success


South African indoor hockey goalkeeper Cullin de Jager is eagerly anticipating the future after the men’s national team secured their place in the 2025 World Cup by finishing as runners-up in the African Cup of Nations tournament in Namibia.

Despite a penalty shootout loss to the host nation in the final, the 23-year-old De Jager, who resides in Johannesburg, expressed satisfaction with their primary objective: qualifying for the international event in Croatia next year.

The South African men’s team, sponsored by Tops at SPAR, will be joined at the World Cup by the national women’s team, who clinched their first African title in a decade by defeating Namibia in Swakopmund, also in a penalty shootout.

Although the team felt some disappointment after losing in the final, especially after having beaten Namibia in a pool match, De Jager highlighted numerous positives from the continental competition.

“Winning the championship would have been ideal, but our main target was to secure World Cup qualification,” he stated. “We have a collective dream of earning a medal at the world tournament, so achieving qualification keeps us on track for that larger goal.”

De Jager’s growing reputation as a top-notch shot-stopper was further solidified when he was named the goalkeeper of the tournament, continuing his impressive performance streak.

He had previously earned the same accolade at the SPAR SA interprovincial tournaments in both 2022 and 2023.

While proud of his personal achievements, De Jager emphasizes the importance of teamwork. “It’s a great honor to be recognized, but the team’s success comes first. If I perform my role effectively, it gives the team a better chance to succeed,” he explained.

“I felt confident throughout the tournament, and it showed me that I can handle the pressures of international play. This experience and the confidence gained will be invaluable moving forward.”

“In Namibia, I was highly focused on my responsibilities and was comfortable with not conceding goals during open play. However, we need to refine our defensive strategies for penalty corners, as we allowed too many goals in those situations.”

De Jager’s journey in hockey is remarkable, transitioning from an unrecognized school player to a key member of the provincial and national teams. His role as a goalkeeper came about by chance.

“It’s been a challenging path,” De Jager admitted. “I attended a small school (Maragon Private School, now Crawford Ruimsig International) where I didn’t get much recognition.

I started playing hockey as a striker in Grade 6, but in Grade 9, a team needed a goalkeeper, so I volunteered. I soon realized I had a knack for it.”

“The crucial factor for me was not being afraid of the hockey ball, which is essential for a goalkeeper. Fear would make the role impossible.”

Although he lacked significant experience in school, De Jager’s post-school determination saw him rise through the ranks to the Southern Gauteng side and eventually to the national team.

He was part of the SA squad for the Kathea Energy Nkosi Cup in Cape Town last year but only made his international debut at the African Cup in Namibia.

De Jager has quickly established himself and is determined to learn and improve. His strong work ethic could make him a vital player in the national team’s efforts to make an impact at the highest levels of the sport.

For De Jager, the upcoming World Cup in Croatia is not just another event but the culmination of years of hard work and dedication. His rise from an unknown school player to a top goalkeeper recognized in major tournaments highlights his perseverance and talent.

As he prepares for the World Cup, De Jager remains focused on the ultimate goal: helping his team succeed internationally. “The Namibia tournament has boosted my confidence, and with ongoing hard work, we can achieve great things in Croatia,” he said.

With his eyes set on World Cup success, Cullin de Jager is a rising star in indoor hockey. His journey of resilience and determination inspires aspiring athletes, demonstrating that with passion and effort, even the loftiest dreams are attainable.

Photo: SA Hockey, X

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