HE is a veteran of almost 100 international hockey games for Australia, but Maitland midfielder Simon Orchard admitted his Olympic debut almost brought a tear to his eye.
Orchard and the Kookaburras opened their London campaign with a 6-0 hammering of South Africa on Monday, a result that reminded the other 11 teams in the tournament exactly who are the reigning four-time world champions and gold-medal favourites.
Normally an unflappable type, the 26-year-old admitted he felt a lump in his throat during the pre-match rendition of Advance Australia Fair.
‘‘I don’t really suffer from nerves, but I actually got a few butterflies during the anthem,’’ he said. ‘‘It was pretty emotional, really.
‘‘Mum and dad and my girlfriend were in the crowd, and there was a lot of Aussie support. I’ve had a lot of messages the last few days and that probably all built up inside me.
‘‘I probably had a few nerves, but I made sure I got that first pass back and then went from there.’’
Asked if he shed a tear or two, Orchard said: ‘‘I was close.
‘‘Sometimes I get stirred up a bit and that was probably a moment where I was pretty stoked with all the hard work I’d done.
‘‘I was just happy to be out there with 15 of my best mates. The anthem was pretty emotional. I was just waiting to get started so I could get over that sort of stuff. But it was great. Really, really memorable.’’
Appearing in his 109th international, Orchard said he was happy with his performance except for a 67th-minute foul that earned him a yellow card and meant he spent the final three minutes on the bench.
He said that was something he had to work on before their next match, against Spain at 5.30pm today AEST.
‘‘Our discipline was awful,’’ he said. ‘‘I got a yellow with three minutes to go, which was just stupid.
‘‘We’ve got to fix that up, because we’ve got a big game on Wednesday.
‘‘It’s a fine line. We had a lot of emotion, and energy and enthusiasm, and sometimes you have to be a bit careful.’’
Four years ago, Orchard experienced the flip side of elite-level sport when he was omitted from Australia’s team who competed at Beijing.
‘‘It’s not just a journey of four years, it’s your whole lifetime,’’ he said. ‘‘Words can’t really explain the sort of feeling I had out there.’’
Australian coach Ric Charlesworth was happy with the opening win, set up by a hat-trick from prolific captain Jamie Dwyer, but he is a notoriously hard marker.
‘‘Six-nil was an OK result, as Ric said, which is typical,’’ Orchard said.
‘‘But we’ve got things to work on ... the thing is South Africa are a good team. Six-nil, probably the most pleasing thing was no goals against. ‘‘But like I said, we’ve still got lots of stuff to improve on.’’
Orchard said Australia had been prepared for ‘‘a war of attrition’’ but the game opened up after Dwyer’s opening goal.
The 33-year-old champion’s treble took him to 179 goals from 279 games for Australia, equalling the record of his former teammate Mark Hager, who scored his goals in just 231 appearances before retiring in 1996.
‘‘He’s a legend, hey,’’ Orchard said. ‘‘I know everyone was a bit nervous in the first half, and it took a bit of special stuff from Jamie.
‘‘I think he pinched it, knocked it, got it back and flicked it across the goal. I think that was our second goal.
‘‘Things like that just make everyone feel at ease. It makes you feel like you can give the ball to him and he can do special things, and it takes a bit of pressure off everyone else.’’
Orchard said Australia were wary of Spain.
‘‘I think they’re No.4 in the world and we’ve had some really close games,’’ he said.
‘‘We beat them in the Champions Trophy last year and it was a tough game.
‘‘They’re fast and skilful and a bit like us. They’ve probably got the best forward line in the world, so we’ll have to be really careful with them and hopefully we can get another good result.’’
Away from the pitch, Orchard has been lapping up the Olympic experience, in particular the opening ceremony.
‘‘I actually ran into LeBron James, which was really cool, and the ceremony itself was super special,’’ he said.