| 18.3°C Dublin

Different year for us: Dean

Close

Dean Rock takes a free during the Allianz Football League Division 1 match against Monaghan at Croke Park in February

Dean Rock takes a free during the Allianz Football League Division 1 match against Monaghan at Croke Park in February

SPORTSFILE

Dean Rock takes a free during the Allianz Football League Division 1 match against Monaghan at Croke Park in February

More than most, Dean Rock had reason to lament the suspension of sporting activities back on March 12.

Then, as now, he stood perched on scoring immortality - just two points shy of Jimmy Keaveney as the most prolific marksman in the history of Dublin football.

The stage and support cast were befitting his coronation too - Dublin were due to play Meath that weekend in Croke Park.

Four months on and even if Rock is still waiting, he at least has an idea now when that moment might arrive.

"That was the most challenging part of it, not knowing when fixtures would be fixed for or what was around the corner," he explained in an interview for McSport.

"At least we have some sort of roadmap. It's certainly given us a bit of a pep in our step. It's something to look forward to."

Regardless of outcome, this year's will be the most novel All-Ireland SFC in memory; straight knock-out in wintery conditions.

Dublin, naturally, are favourites. But the insurance policy of a back door has been revoked and the vagaries and variables of football in December will apply.

"We understand it's a different year and a challenging year," Rock explained.

"Everybody is keen to just play football now. It's just one those years, it's going to be different.

"Everyone just has to get their heads around it because there's no point in wishing things were different and the ground was harder or the weather was better.

"The best team will win the All-Ireland," he insisted.

"There can't be any excuses. It's a level playing field. It will just be interesting to see because there's different variables.

"But we're used to playing in bad weather in Ireland. We saw it in the national league."

Prolonged

How inter-county players filled such a prolonged downtime has been the subject of much fascination.

You might reasonably assume that Rock, given the importance of freetaking to his overall offering to the Dublin team, slavishly kick ball after ball with metronomic regularity from dawn to dusk.

Not so.

He has estimated his practice time as being "at least once a week" and by necessity, has scaled back on the volume of kicks he tries in one session.

"Down through the years I've developed my own habits with my kicking," he outlined.

"As a kid, I probably would have kicked 200 balls a session. I started to realise my hips and groins weren't going to be able to sustain that forever.

"So I had to change my own method. Predominantly, it's just 35 or 40 kicks a session but every kick would be purposeful. I try and put myself into match-type situations and try and execute each kick as best I can rather than kicking loads of balls under fatigue.

"Once I put myself into my routine or process time and time again, I'm happy with that. Less is more when it comes to freetaking nowadays."

His ability to execute under pressure has been perhaps the defining feature of Rock's freetaking, memorably icing the winner in the 2017 All-Ireland final despite having a GPS pack flung at him.

The uncertainty over public congregation means he may face a similarly important kick in a completely different atmosphere, a three-quarters empty Croke Park amid December rain.

"I'll be looking for some tips from the rugby lads," Rock suggested.

"They're used to kicking with a lack of noise and respect for the kickers. Whereas in Croke Park, you could have half the stadium booing you and the other half biting their nails.

"So it's a totally different scenario. When I'm practicing frees, I've always kicked in isolation in front of nobody.

"So it might even feel a bit more normal than it usually does," Rock added. "It might be a positive."