herald

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Nobody has it easy: Rock

Dean Rock playing for the 2016 All Stars during the GAA/GPA All-Stars football tour, sponsored by Opel, at the Sheikh Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Pic: Sportsfile
Dean Rock playing for the 2016 All Stars during the GAA/GPA All-Stars football tour, sponsored by Opel, at the Sheikh Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Pic: Sportsfile

When it comes to All-Ireland finals, the result is everything. Just ask Dublin - or Mayo.

But even in victory, don't be lulled into believing that players couldn't care about their own individual performance or personal stats.

Just ask Dean Rock.

The Dublin marksman won his first All-Ireland senior medal, in 2013, coming off the bench against Mayo. He won his second, in 2015, having been replaced halfway through the Kerry decider.

So Rock went away and set about becoming a better player in 2016. And he ended the season not alone with his third Celtic Cross but a maiden All Star.

In the process he became the championship's top scorer, amassing 1-58 over seven SFC contests. His strike rate from placed balls (45 converted frees and three '45s') was hovering around the 90pc mark.

The Ballymun clubman was in Dubai and Abu Dhabi this past week, enjoying some well-earned down time as part of the Opel-sponsored GAA/GPA All Stars touring party. But already his thoughts are turning towards 2017, when he hopes to be better again. Standing still is simply not an option.

Rock may have firmly established his starting credentials during the past two years under Jim Gavin, but he's faced his trials and tribulations too.

Adversity

"Everyone faces adversity in their careers and their life," he tells The Herald. "Everyone that's here would have gone through it at some stage. No one has an easy path as such, so I am no different to anyone else. I've had my ups and downs.

"I'm certainly enjoying it at the minute. I can't wait to be back in January to be a better version of Dean Rock again next year. That's my main goal … and that will always be the case."

Rock agrees that the memory of being taken off, in 2015, was a motivation this year.

"Obviously the team won, that's the main thing. But everyone looks at themselves, individually, at the end of the season - where they can improve and stuff like that," he says.

"So I took it on the chin and obviously I was delighted that we won the All-Ireland, because they're not easily won.

"From a personal perspective, I asked what I needed to work on and I went about it, trained hard in the off-season at the end of 2015 and kicked on from there."

On reflection, he was happy enough with his truncated performance against Kerry in that '15 decider. "I missed a goal chance in the first minute, but I was working hard and tackling and getting on a lot of ball and playing hard. So I certainly played my part in what was a great victory," says Rock.

"The way we play, there's always changes," he adds. "That's just the strength of the squad … if people are off one or two percent, the next person comes in and does the job. No one is bigger than the team."

Like most free-takers, you suspect, Rock doesn't merely practice plenty but keeps a close watch on his conversion stats. He reckons he had nailed 38 out of 40 placed balls up to the drawn All-Ireland final with Mayo, but then squandered four of his seven attempts that day. Conditions didn't help, but those misses clearly grated.

"I was seven from seven in the replay, so I think I finished up with maybe 89 or 90pc from frees. But I would have finished up with 95pc or so had it not been for the drawn game," he concedes.

"It was all down to technique, pretty much. There was a change in the weather … you were wearing studs this time, the run-up to the kick is not as fast, you're being dragged down by the studs and then with the weather conditions as well.

"Looking back now, I could have maybe rectified a few things. But you know yourself, in the heat of the battle ...

"Certainly it's one of those things that I learned from going into the next day. And something I' ll learn from going forward. Touch wood, I don't think I'll ever miss four frees in a game again," he ventures.

"As a free-taker you're always developing and learning new things … I was a better free-taker in 2016 than I was in 2015, and I'd like to think I'll be a better free-taker in 2017."

The same, he says, applies to Cillian O'Connor. He was Mayo's drawn game saviour but his All-Ireland replay memories forever will be blighted by the missed late free that would have forced extra-time. If it was a kick to win the game, Rock is "100pc" sure that O'Connor would have nailed it.

"He is a great free-taker," he stresses. "He doesn't owe anything to Mayo. He's the captain of Mayo and he's won so many Connachts and so many big games for Mayo down the past. I'm sure, like me, he'll be a better free-taker next year than he was this year."

And finally, what of Dublin next year and their three-in-a-row tilt?

"We genuinely never spoke about back-to-back," Rock insists. "The lads from Ballyboden came in - Robbie McDaid, Colm Basquel - and some other guys left the panel. So it's going to be the same thing again in 2017, because that's what Jim does. He always brings in new blood, so there'll be no talk of three-in-a-row. It's hard enough to win one All-Ireland."

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