Dean Rock strengthened by school of hard knocks

At last month’s Stewarts Care Golf Classic in Hollystown, organiser Dean Rock had the backing of public utilities company Veolia. 

Pat Gilroy previously headed up the firm - the same Pat Gilroy who felt Rock was surplus to requirements during his time in charge of Dublin.

The truth is Stewarts - a centre for people with moderate to severe intellectual and physical disability - for whom Rock works as both communications and fundraising manager and adapted physical activity coordinator, have a long-standing relationship with Veolia and Gilroy left the business in 2016.

But don’t let that get in the way of our attempt at establishing irony.

Now as a back-to-back All-Star, an ever-present in three consecutive All-Ireland campaigns, and the finest exponent of free-taking in the country, it’s difficult to believe someone as astute as Gilroy would overlook the Ballymun Kickhams man.

Tearing hamstrings off the bone and knee surgery stunted his development but there was no excuse in 2012. 

As Rock admitted before, the phone-call to drop him just before the Championship stunned him but Gilroy may have felt the attacker wasn’t doing enough outside frees.

His dead-ball skills, particularly after Stephen Cluxton stepped away from taking them in 2016, have never been more crucial but 8-36 from play in 33 matches, 8-25 of that coming in his 22 starts since the start of the 2015 SFC, isn’t shabby in the slightest.

“Pat Gilroy had his reasons for not going with him and when you’re not involved in the set-up you don’t really know these things,” says Rock’s clubmate and former Dublin full-back Paddy Christie.

“You would have heard things like he wasn’t getting a fair crack of the whip and on the other hand that he wasn’t good enough but Pat was the best person to make judgements.”

“In fairness, it’s Dean’s reaction to that scenario, which was more important. He went off to America that year and came back the following season under a new manager and proved his point.

“His frees would be a huge thing but he has been contributing hugely from play. He’s 6ft2in so it was important he was winning his own ball, became more aggressive and he became physically stronger. He might have said ‘oh, I’ll go back to my club and forget about it’ but he chose the harder route to come back and prove his point and double the amount of work and it’s obviously bearing fruit for him now.

The parallels between Ballymun’s other stellar father-son combination of John and James McCarthy aren’t as prominent as those that can be drawn between freetakers Barney and Dean but the comparison goes beyond that, Christie argues.

“I would have played with Barney as he was finishing and I was starting with Ballymun and he wasn’t the type of fella who was going to win a ball at the edge of the square with a couple of fellas thumping him. Anto McCaul would do that when the chances were 70-30 against him and he would pass off the ball to someone like Barney and he would have put the ball over the bar. You can be as dynamic as you like and stick your head where others wouldn’t dare put their foot but you still need finishers.  The fortitude of Rock the free-taker was well and truly proven on September 17 last and Christie suggests it might be needed again in different circumstances. 

“I just don’t see how you can win a number of games in an All-Ireland run without having a top free-taker. The law of averages means you’re going to get a wet, mucky day at some stage and this year that could be in the Super 8s down the country and you’re against some crowd in their own patch. It could be seven points to six with 10 minutes to go and the only scores you’re sure of are the frees from 20 or 30 metres out.

“There will be occasions where the game doesn’t turn out the way you would expect but what you can almost guarantee is you will get frees and it’s going to come down to whether you score them or not. You need your free-taker hitting eight or nine out of 10 and your team hitting sixes or sevens will be caught out.

“For me having being a defender, I can go back to my own days when you were facing a good free-taker and it meant you were afraid of your life to foul. That makes an awful difference as to how you mark a man or how aggressive you can be. That opens up all types of freedom for the forwards when they have a fella who can put the ball over the bar almost every time.”


Design/life: Aileen Lee profiles Andrew Pain of Black Hen Designs

Learning Points: School bullies grow up to be work bullies

Another day, another new label - will we ever reach ‘peak gin’?

Paul Linehan on his favourite books, music and the best gig he ever went to

More From The Irish Examiner