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Friday 9 December 2016

Blues off to a rock steady start

Dean won't dwell on last year's semi saga as he targets extra 1-2pc against Mayo out west

Dean Rock impressed in Dublin’s League opener. Photo: Sportsfile
Dean Rock impressed in Dublin’s League opener. Photo: Sportsfile

Yo could make the argument that Mayo aren't Dean Rock's favourite opponents. He started against them twice last summer and was substituted each time, fuelling doubts at the time over his All-Ireland final place.

But Rock doesn't view it that way. He's a forward-thinking type of guy. And a forward who prefers to just carry on doing what he does best - scoring points, lots of them.

If the Ballymun clubman was inclined to look back, he could remind you that his first All-Ireland SFC medal was won on the pitch against Mayo - 2013 was the year, the summer Rock rivalled Kevin McManamon in the super-sub stakes.

His second Celtic Cross was earned against Kerry last September. And when battle with the green-and-gold resumed last Saturday night, the son of Barney was out of the blocks quickly with a seven-point haul, including three from play.

Point-blank

Could have been better ... he'll quickly concede that his scoring stats should have reached 1-7 at least. "He's not a bad goalkeeper!" he says of Kerry midfielder David Moran, who denied Rock at point-blank range during the first half.

"No, I should have finished that one - but that was one of many chances that we should have scored. Look, it's better to be creating the opportunities than not be creating them, so that's a positive in itself.

"Just next weekend against Mayo, hopefully we can execute a bit better as well."

Ah yes, Mayo. Those two crazy semi-finals last August/September oscillated one way, then the other - but Rock spent the key periods in both games looking on from the Hogan Stand.

He was held scoreless in the first half of the original stalemate and replaced by McManamon for the second. He was back starting the replay, nailed a couple of frees, missed a couple more ... this time his 53rd-minute exit prefaced the start of Dublin's spectacular comeback.

Now, as he looks forward to Saturday night's Allianz League Division One trek to Castlebar, the player refuses to view it as a chance to lay down a personal marker after last summer.

"Not at all," Rock insists. "I think you learn from every game, and there are certain things I would have learned from last year - and even from the game against Kerry on Saturday night.

"So you just keep learning. Look, you do your bit for the team and it's always a 21-man game, especially with us. You do your stint on the pitch and if it's not happening for you, it's not happening and the next man steps up.

"For me, I'm just trying to get better every training session and again, it's just trying to improve on the performance from Saturday night. It's trying to get one or two percent better again for the Mayo game, personally and then collectively."

Mayo, though, need a lot more than 2pc - not just after last year's semi-final trauma but more so after Sunday's scarily bad defeat in Cork, with the added spotlight of a concussion controversy involving Lee Keegan.

"They've got new management and that would bring a freshness to their group and a bit more eagerness," Rock maintains. "Certainly it's a game we're really looking forward to. That's what's great about the National League - you've got games nearly every week, different things to work on and different opposition.

"MacHale Park will be a different surface to Croke Park, so that will bring a challenge in itself. And then the travelling part of it as well. So it will be a completely different scenario than it was against Kerry.

Intensity

"Mayo bring a great level of intensity to a game, and that was probably something that we weren't used to prior to that [drawn semi-final] where we played Mayo, and it was something we had to quickly get our heads around.

"Mayo always bring that physicality and intensity that a lot of other teams don't. That's the thing that stands out for me really - the high-octane games when ourselves and Mayo come up against each other."

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