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Monday 18 December 2017

Rock's roller coaster rise to the Sky Blue summit

Early blows helped Dean become a better player

At the GAA’s Future Leaders Transition Year Programme launch at Croke Park were Dean Rock (Dublin footballer), Ava Lynskey (Galway camogie), Eoghan Hanley (National Co-Ordinator of the Future Leaders programme), John Horan (GAA president-elect), Ciara O’Donnell (Director of the PDST), Ciara Trant (Dublin footballer) and Aidan Harte (Galway hurler)
At the GAA’s Future Leaders Transition Year Programme launch at Croke Park were Dean Rock (Dublin footballer), Ava Lynskey (Galway camogie), Eoghan Hanley (National Co-Ordinator of the Future Leaders programme), John Horan (GAA president-elect), Ciara O’Donnell (Director of the PDST), Ciara Trant (Dublin footballer) and Aidan Harte (Galway hurler)
Dean Rock

It's a little known fact that Dean Rock officially qualifies as a 'Startled Earwig'.

Little known because he was on the edges of the Sky Blue periphery in 2009 - just 19 and then very much 'Son of Barney' as opposed to a Dublin senior footballer in his own right.

But a quick check of the match programme, from that fateful August Bank Holiday Monday over eight years ago, indeed confirms the presence of "Dean Rock, Ballymun Kickhams" in the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final match-day squad, jersey number 29.

Why is this such a little-known nugget? Because the next three summers would pass without Rock being a part of the championship furniture. It's almost as if he only became a Dublin footballer in 2013 after Jim Gavin assumed control of the senior cockpit.

Yet he was there early in 2010 - that spring he also helped Gavin's Dubs to the AlI-Ireland U21 summit. He didn't survive into summer, though.

Off the bone

In 2011 he tore his hamstring off the bone. Recall dream over.

In 2012 he was restored to Pat Gilroy's league panel only to be informed, on the cusp of summer, that he was off the championship panel.

The following October, after Rock played a pivotal role in helping Ballymun Kickhams to their first Dublin SFC title in 27 years, his then-manager Paul Curran remarked: "It's a no-brainer. He has to be back in."

Five years, four All-Irelands and two back-to-back All Stars later, it may seem a strange question to pose ... but has Dean Rock ever asked himself what mightn't have been?

"Yeah, absolutely," he confirms, speaking at yesterday's Croke Park launch of the Future Leaders Transition Year Programme, a joint GAA and PDST initiative.

"I had stints in the Dublin team … I was there in 2009 when Kerry beat us, I was on the bench that day. And then 2010 I was on the panel and then was gone. And then in 2012 I was dropped from the panel.

"So yeah, there were obviously times where you doubted yourself and said 'Look, maybe I'm not going to represent the Dublin senior team; I've represented Dublin 21s and won an All-Ireland, but maybe I'll just be a good club player'.

Determined

"But I suppose I was always quite determined and always had a huge amount of belief in myself, that one day I eventually would get there," the 27-year-old expands.

"There's no secret ingredient. I just genuinely worked very, very hard and I busted my b***s in the gym and off the field. And any opportunity I got then to play with Dublin, from 2013 onwards, I took with both hands.

"Obviously Jim is a manager who I've been lucky to have been associated with for the last nine years, from U21s to seniors, so he gave me a lot of confidence and a lot of freedom to express myself.

"He obviously believed in me a lot, so it was nice to have that reassurance. I suppose I haven't really looked back from there."

The old adage - what doesn't kill you makes you stronger - seems apposite. A combination of setbacks, physical and psychological, might well have contributed to making Rock the more rounded footballer he is today.

First, that serious injury in 2011.

"I tore my hamstring off the bone in an U21 game against Meath that went to extra-time. I played through it - tore the hamstring off the bone maybe in the first half but continued to play and play. I was out for about nine months after that," he recounts.

"For whatever reason, a complication on it, I couldn't get surgery. I had to just regrow the muscle to the bone myself, so that took about nine months. I was back for the club in October.

"That was a long period of time for me. Again, I used it as a positive, used it to get a bit bigger in the gym, fill out and stuff like that."

Being dropped also focussed his mind on where he needed to improve. Any specifics?

"Probably my work-rate off the ball was something that I needed to have a look at," he replies.

"It's something that I would probably see as one of my strengths now, my defensive duties for the team, getting my tackles in and doing what I can defensively to help the defenders and make it easier on them for ball going in and stuff.

Improve

"That was one area of my game that I said I wanted to improve on and brush up on. I said it to myself and I put it as a goal and went after it, so it's something I base my game on now, my hard work. If I can get my hard work right, I know the rest will look after itself."

Dublin's deadball specialist will turn 28 in February; he is entering what should be the peak years of his career. Especially given his early struggles to establish a place in Gilroy's squad and then Gavin's first 15, retirement is the last thing on his mind.

Yet even for a 36-year-old veteran like Denis Bastick, quitting wasn't easy.

"He's had an amazing career and goes off into the sunset with five All-Ireland medals and other accolades," says his now ex-comrade.

"We're in a special time for Dublin GAA and we understand that ... at Denis's age, he still found it hard to eventually walk away.

"We're a very close-knit group and it will be hard not to have him there. We'll certainly notice an empty space in the corner of the dressing-room.

"Hopefully," he concludes, "I won't have to do that for another number of years."

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