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Saturday 21 October 2017

'One of my jobs is to put frees over all of the time': Hero Rock

Four crucial points from play in All-Ireland final silenced Dean’s doubters

Dublin’s Dean Rock celebrating on the full-time whistle as the Dubs secured the Sam Maguire for the third year in-a-row
Dublin’s Dean Rock celebrating on the full-time whistle as the Dubs secured the Sam Maguire for the third year in-a-row
AIG Insurance, proud sponsor of the Dubs, celebrated the All-Ireland victories of both men’s and ladies’ senior footballers yesterday by announcing discounts on travel insurance for Dublin GAA fans. Dublin’s Dean Rock is pictured with the Sam Maguire Cup. See www.aig.ie/dubs for more

Dean Rock jokes now that he missed that same, now iconic late free, in Dublin's last 'A' versus 'B' match before the All-Ireland SFC final "for the morale of the group" (so match ended level).

"You come across moments in a season that it do manifest their way back on to the pitch and you put yourself in that situation again and it certainly does help," he says.

"But it was a kind of a pressured situation. Lads were putting me off and different things."

Sounds oddly familiar.

Yet Rock's biggest school day this year was the league final.

With Dublin a point down, he stood over a free from just outside the '45' needing to convert it to force extra-time.

The kick lay on the periphery of most freetakers' range but not Rock's, who has now confirmed his reputation as the best place-kicker in the country.

The ground wasn't as hard as it would be in September, when the free his 2017 will be remembered for arced sweetly over the Canal End crossbar but still, this was within Rock's compass and he hit the upright.

From the comfy vantage point of having stroked the winner in one of the greatest All-Ireland finals in recent memory, Rock can reveal that the league miss wasn't any sort of miscue, just a mis-read.

In the same way the golfers judge the break of a putt incorrectly and overcompensate, Rock evaluated the direction of the wind in Croke Park wrongly.

Confidence

"I knew that it was purely a judgement thing, that I had mis-read the wind and I had mis-read my approach.

"I thought the wind was going from right to left, so I aimed a yard outside the right post.

"But the wind was directly into my face so had I aimed at the post, it would have went over the bar, but I went one yard too far to the right.

"But," he adds, "that kick gave me confidence, even though I had missed it, it gave me confidence because I knew why I had missed the kick. I suppose, that is the main thing as a free-taker.

"I knew the importance of the kick and one of my jobs for the team is to put those frees over the bar 100 per cent of the time."

Rock isn't just some knacky kicker. He is a confirmed student of ball striking.Indeed he reckons that "whether it's American football or rugby, soccer, whether it's shoulder position or steps back and different things, I'd pretty much be able to determine whether someone's going to get it over the bar or not depending on their body position or their alignment straight away."

And like most players who have kicked thousands of frees from the ground, he has had to lessen the volume of his practice in order to protect his groin.

"I do a lot more purposeful practise now," he explains. "I might only do 20 kicks a session at this stage but they're all done with intent and they're all done real purposefully.

"There's no point in going out with a bag of 10 balls and having 80 kicks and just swiping at a few of them and not really knowing what you're doing.

"I'd rather just take 20 balls, hit them correctly and then just walk off the pitch and the job is done."

His team-mates, Rock says, "take it on themselves," to try and put him off in training matches because "they know that it happens in matches".

Yet it is unlikely that anyone has thrown, say, a GPS pack at him whilst lining up the last couple of kicks of a training session.

"It was only after the game when it blew up on social media and it became a thing," says Rock who treated the furore about Lee Keegan's missile with a characteristic smile and shrug of his shoulders.

"I genuinely thought it was a piece of muck or something that was thrown.

"I was just completely focused on the ball and a certain point on the ball and I was completely oblivious to everything else around me.

"The item didn't hit me or anything so it wasn't an issue at the time.

"I just struck the ball over the bar," he concludes, "and then straight onto the kick-out to try and shut it down," concludes the Ballymun Kickhams man.

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