Criticism of his free-taking project, self-doubts and being dropped by Pat Gilroy in 2012

THE YEAR HE turned 30 hasn’t worked out so badly for Dean Rock. 

A free run with Ballymun Kickhams during the summer led to Brendan Hackett’s side reigning supreme in Dublin for the first time since 2012.

Shortly after that he sealed his place as the county’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing legendary figure Jimmy Keaveney in a league game against Meath to cement his legacy as one of their greatest ever forwards.

“I wouldn’t have been too aware of it until the end of last year,” he says of the record.

“Probably after the All-Ireland final, somebody said something that I overtook my dad [former sharpshooter Barney Rock]. Then you know you were close to overtaking Bernard Brogan and Jimmy Keaveney and those great guys.

“You were aware of it. But it’s one of things. You just tick it off your list and moved on. You wouldn’t be going out in a game saying ‘I need to get six or seven points here to overtake whoever.’

“It was just go out and perform and the rest of that stuff looks after itself.”

After all the tension that came with their five-in-a-row bid last year, 2020 feels like a pressure valve has been released. Dublin are playing with more freedom this season, perhaps helped by the lack of crowds, and Rock finds himself in his sixth successive All-Ireland final.

“For me personally, it’s been a great year. Turning 30, winning with the club was obviously very satisfying this year. It hasn’t gone unnoticed the struggles we’ve had with Ballymun over the years in terms of getting our best players on the pitch.

“So to be able to train with the club lads all summer and give that a full whack was one of the most enjoyable moments in my career.

“I feel great. I’m 30 now but I’ve always looked after my body really well and thankfully, I’ve missed very few games with Dublin over the last number of years.

“So I take great pride in my preparation on and off the field. I make sure I’m in a position to challenge for a starting position. I think when you’re looking after yourself on and off the pitch, that transpires to good performances on it.

“I’m really enjoying my football. The club championship has been brilliant this year. It has freshened things up for all of us really.”

Dean Rock at Dublin’s All-Ireland final press day.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

There’s a good deal of excitement at home too as his girlfriend, Dublin ladies footballer Niamh McEvoy, prepares for her seventh All-Ireland final in-a-row, which takes place 24 hours after the men’s decider.

“I suppose the great thing is we’ve great experience of it over the last number of years,” he says.

“Obviously we would talk about quite a lot because it’s at the forefront of your mind. It’s very hard to get away from that. But we have our own routines away from football.

“We have certain things to take our minds off football. But look, lucky enough for us, it’s been part and parcel of our lives. It’s hugely exciting for Niamh and our families.”

Despite his famous last name, Rock didn’t always appear destined to become a permanent fixture in the Dublin team. In the early part of his career he struggled to nail down a place in the squad.

“There would have been times when you really doubted yourself,” he admits. “I remember getting dropped off the Dublin panel in 2012.

“Chelsea were playing Bayern Munich in the Champions League final and I got a phone call from Pat Gilroy saying I was dropped. I probably thought at the time I was getting to say I was playing against [Louth] in the championship.

“It just transpired that for whatever reason, I wasn’t deemed good enough at the time. I remember the next day going down to Garristown, where I live, running and running for hours until my Dad had to come down and pick me up.

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“So I think it was just that resilience piece that you need as a sportsperson. You’re going to have your setbacks. I certainly had them and I could easily have packed it in and walked away.

“But I made a promise to myself that I was going to do what I could. Luckily enough the club came to the rescue for me that year. We won the club championship and that set me up for when Jim [Gavin] came in in 2013.

“So yeah, I suppose from there, I never looked back.”

Rock warming up before the Cavan game.

Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Earlier this year he drew some flack over his novel free-taking project, a business initiative that charged a fee to “inspire and educate current and aspiring free-takers in the game”.

Some were dissatisfied at the pricing, yet here was arguably the game’s best dead ball shooter imparting his experience and knowledge of delivering in the biggest moments.

He was upfront about the cost, sparking a reaction on social media that opened up a discussion on the issue of amateurism in the GAA.

Rock took it all in his stride, brushing off the criticism.

“Ah look, with everything, everyone is entitled to their opinion. It comes with the territory when you probably put yourself out there with that sort of thing.

“It’s something from talking to you guys [the media] over the last number of years I think it’s something you understand the value I put on it, and the love I have for place kicking from all different types of sports throughout the world.

“Just went for it and thankfully it’s going well so far.

“At the moment, the thing is just really for those aged 17 and over whether it’s from a club, or different county players or minors, that’s kind of the clientele really.

“Look, it’s been hugely enjoyable and I enjoy trying to see the progression and transition in a player’s kicking and the big thing is that they are getting value out of it, which is the most important thing.”

Rock’s 9-5 job is with Stewarts Care, an organisation that provide services for people with intellectual disabilities, as their fundraising and communications manager. 

The free-taking school has taken a back seat in recent weeks as he focuses fully on chasing silverware with the Dubs.

“Not at this time of year, my full focus is on Dublin GAA and playing sports.

“Just different times of years when it is feasible and practical to do, and you know, so come next year then I will probably have a little plan and get to work on it then.”

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