YOU can take the boy out of Maitland, but you can’t take Maitland out of the boy.
Simon Orchard may be on the verge of making a worldwide name for himself with his performances for the Australian men’s hockey team at the London Olympics, but his feet are firmly attached to the ground, or in this case the astroturf he treads so regally.
Seven years after crossing the Nullarbor to join the Australian Institute of Sport hockey program in Perth, Orchard’s heart remains in his home town.
Now he has the opportunity to become only the second product from Maitland, after Lochinvar equestrian legend Matt Ryan, to collect an Olympic gold medal, unless compatriot Brendan Sexton, who will compete in the triathlon in London, beats him to the honour.
‘‘I know all the Maitland boys are back home watching and they’ve organised some parties for various games and things like that,’’ Orchard said.
‘‘I don’t get a chance to get back there much, and I miss my family and friends, and stuff like that, so it will be great to represent them once we get under way.’’
Orchard said he would ‘‘love to celebrate with as many people as possible’’ if the Kookaburras were lucky enough to return with the ultimate prize.
‘‘That will be my first stop,’’ he said.
‘‘We get into Sydney and then I’m straight back home for a few days to hopefully celebrate and maybe get up to some mischief.’’
The Kookaburras, who enter the Olympics as four-time world champions and Commonwealth Games gold medallists, are rated firm favourites to complete a clean sweep of their sport’s most coveted titles.
For that to become a reality, much will depend on Orchard, who celebrates every goal with a trademark dance he calls the Maitland Ram in honour of his junior club.
Four years ago, he was heartbroken when he missed selection for the Beijing Games.
By his own admission, that setback proved to be the making of him.
He is now 26, has more than 100 international games under his belt, and has proved himself repeatedly at the highest level.
‘‘Everyone’s important,’’ Kookaburras coach Ric Charlesworth said. ‘‘But Simon is a very dangerous player when he’s at his best, so he can be really important for us.’’
Charlesworth was confident Orchard could improve.
‘‘I think he can get better,’’ he said. ‘‘I think they can all get better. Probably in four years’ time he’ll be at the peak of his powers.’’
Orchard considers London his chance ‘‘to stamp my authority on an international tournament’’ but stresses that his goals are collective.
‘‘Each tournament I go to, I like to do the team thing,’’ he said.
‘‘At the end of the day, I’ve come to realise that if I contribute the way I can and the way I play, that’s only going to help the team. That’s what I’m coming around to now.
‘‘I really want team success. ‘‘I couldn’t care less if I played badly and we win a gold medal. I’d be stoked.
‘‘But in saying that, everyone wants to play well and I’ll just be doing the best I can.
‘‘Basic skills, use my speed, things like that.’’
Orchard will have a strong support network on hand over the next two weeks, despite minor hassles getting tickets organised.
‘‘Mum, dad and my brother got out here yesterday,’’ Orchard said.
‘‘My brother was very sick on the plane. First time flying overseas, so hopefully he’ll be right.
‘‘My girlfriend is coming out and then I’ve got various cousins and friends from Maitland, Newcastle and Perth, where I live now, so hopefully there’ll be a big contingent of Aussies out there screaming for us.’’
Orchard said he was ‘‘super excited’’ and eager for Australia’s opening game, against South Africa on Monday, and saw no reason to be intimidated or overawed by the magnitude of the event.
‘‘We’ve worked hard over four years, and once that first whistle goes, it’s going to be a real culmination of all that hard work,’‘‘ he said.
‘‘We’ve got such a wealth of experience around us. We’ve got Ric, who’s obviously been to a million Olympics, and Jamie [Dwyer], Liam [de Young] and Mark [Knowles] have been to three, so they’re there to point us in the right direction.
‘‘I’m someone who doesn’t really suffer from nerves too much. I’m hoping this is no different.
‘‘I just want to get out there and enjoy it.
‘‘At the end of the day, it’s just a game, although obviously we want to win.’’