From surplus to requirements to ever-present, Dean Rock’s graph has shown a steady rise these last five years.
Unlike Pat Gilroy, Jim Gavin saw the promise in his former U21 player. There have been a couple of obstacles along the way such as a knee injury and it wasn’t really until last year that he had begun established himself in the team. Even then, he was benched at half-time in that All-Ireland final victory over Kerry. It turned out to be the motivation for his All-Star winning 2016 season.
“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. 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.”
After an almost flawless free-taking rate and a marvellous All-Ireland semi-final display against Kerry in which he scored 12 points, the 26-year-old lost his way a little in the drawn final but Gavin kept faith in him and was rewarded with a return to form in the replay win over Mayo. Rock knew his statistics for the season were more than decent.
“I certainly know that up to the first (Mayo game), I was 46 out of 48 or maybe 38 out of 40, something like that. And then I was only three from seven in the (drawn) final so I missed four. But then I was seven from seven in the replay so I think I finished up with maybe 89% or 90% from frees. But I would have finished up with probably 95% or so had it not been for the drawn game.”
The conditions that day were conducive to free-taking. “I would have looked back at all my tapes. It was all down to technique, pretty much. There was a change in the weather; we hadn’t played in as bad a weather as that. The semi-final against Kerry was perfect. 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.
“So all those things added up and, looking back now, I could have maybe rectified a few things or thought in my head that I have to run up a bit quicker. But 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.”
A former schools rugby player, it shouldn’t be much surprise Rock borrows technique tips from that game. He is already gunning to improve next season.
“As a free-taker you’re always developing, you’re always getting better and learning new things.
“For me, 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 than I was in 2016.”
He adds: “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, just to be a better player than I was this year.”
Being entrusted with free-taking duties even long range ones which had been the duty of Stephen Cluxton was a source of confidence for Rock whose father Barney was an obvious inspiration in that regard. “I have always prided myself on being a free-taker. I’ve kicked frees probably from the age of five or six when dad was going off training teams or whatever, I’d always be just practising frees. I would always just be kicking frees so it’s kind of engrained in me.”
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