Dean Rock believes a later return to inter-county action for Dublin’s frontline stars in 2017 helped Jim Gavin’s side “peak” to claim their third title in a row.
Much was made of the Dublin’s decision to schedule their team holiday for the first week of the year last January, with the vast majority of Jim Gavin’s starters absent from the O’Byrne Cup. A reintegrated panel later stuttered at times – recording three draws – during the divisional stages of a National League campaign that ultimately resulted in a final defeat to Kerry.
However, Rock believes Dublin’s High-Performance manager Bryan Cullen and Gavin’s backroom staff made a wise call with their precise planning. Already back in county club action – Rock kicked eight points for Ballymun in their Dublin SFC quarter-final win over St Brigid’s last weekend – the 27-year-old forward reckons Jim Gavin’s panel are still feeling the benefits of that call.
“A lot of lads are extremely fresh now,” said Rock yesterday at an AIG sponsorship launch. “We’ve all come back in good shape. In previous years we’ve come back with some sort of niggle or some sort of injuries.
“I think a lot of it was due to the fact that we did come back a little bit later in the season. We didn’t really go gung-ho for the League as such. We trained away, played our games and come Championship time then we managed to peak at the right time and win the All-Ireland which was the main objective.”
Dropped twice from Dublin’s senior panel – in 2010 and 2012– one might expect Rock to consider his match-winning free in last month’s All-Ireland SFC final win over Mayo to be a crowning moment of redemption.
But while he may have travelled a rocky road, the Dubliner always believed he would one day work his way towards such an opportunity.
“I’d always have had huge self-belief that I would eventually be free-taker for the Dublin team,” said Rock on his difficult formative years on Pat Gilroy’s panel – a time when the son of Dubs legend Barney found it difficult to nail down a squad place. “It was hugely frustrating and tough at times when you didn’t really want to continue, but you snap out of that, and those times make the difference and ultimately steel you for situations like three weeks ago in Croke Park.”
A more recent setback that proved to be ultimately beneficial came a little under six months before the All-Ireland decider as the Ballymun clubman recalled his missed free against Kerry, which cost Dublin a draw late on in the National League final.
“I knew that it was purely a judgement thing - I had mis-read the wind and I had mis-read my approach… But even though I had missed it, it gave me confidence because I knew why I had missed the kick,” explained Rock, whose self-assuredness was on show with one minute left in injury-time against Mayo.
However, the 27-year-old claims he did not allow himself to dwell on the significance of the All-Ireland final-winning kick.
“I didn’t want my mind to run away from me and think, ‘Jaysus, this is what I have always dreamed of.’
“As a kid, you would have always imagined kicking the winning free in an All-Ireland final…Those things come after the game but when you are in the moment, it is your responsibility to really execute under pressure.”
Such was Rock’s focus that the free-taker was not aware of Lee Keegan’s efforts to distract him with a re-routed GPS.
“No, not at all. It was only after the game when it blew up on social media and it became a thing. I genuinely thought it was a piece of muck or something that was thrown, and that was okay. 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,” said Rock, who also revealed that he analyses kickers in rugby and NFL as part of his preparations.
“When it comes to free-taking, I would have followed a lot of the top place-kickers. I would have followed the likes of Johnny Wilkinson… Every place-kicker in world sport, I’d watch every sport, whether it’s American football or rugby, soccer, whether it’s shoulder position or steps back and different things,” said the Dublin dead-ball specialist.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved