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Monday 21 April 2014

Barney Rock takes a trip down memory lane as son Dean prepares for final

Son Dean prepares to add another chapter to the Rock family history

Barney Rock insists he will be calm watching the game

Blues legend Barney takes a trip down Croke Park memory lane as his son Dean prepares to add another chapter to the family history

DATELINE: September 23, 1973. The dressing-room of All-Ireland football champions Cork.

Bedlam. Shouts, hurrahs, 'go on ye boy ye', bodies squeezing into the cramped space to celebrate the Rebels achievement.

Amid the mayhem, stands a skinny 12-year-old kid from Finglas, Dublin.

His name is Barney Rock. He's there because his uncle Joe is one of the stewards who looks after the changing rooms.

So, the kid is there in the middle of it. The finest Cork team for a generation. Already pundits are tipping them to dominate the game for the next five years at least.

Big Ray Cummins spots young Barney. "Would ye like something?" he asks.

Barney nods. And Cummins, the legendary dual player, hands Rock his shorts.

A treasured memento in days of innocence. No matter that two or maybe three Barney Rocks would be needed to fill the shorts.

These were an All-Ireland winner's togs. And there's more. Denis Long, free taker and hero to the Barney, tosses him his socks.

"Denis Long's socks."

Now that was something to boast about to your pals, a precious memento from one of your idols.

Dateline: September 26, 1983.

The dressing-room of All-Ireland winners Dublin.

A 'game of shame', say critics – and some say it to this day.

But the facts are that a Dublin team which finished a contentious, ill-tempered encounter with only 12 players, defeated a Galway side that closed out the match with 14.

In the dressing-room occupied by the champions, there's more mayhem and madness. Barney Rock is in the middle of it, this time as part of the Dublin team.

The emotions are powerfully echoing around the room.

Exhaustion, relief, disbelief at the whole messy affair which was marred by a half-time confrontation between Dublin and Galway players.

There's anger, too, particularly on behalf of their spiritual and physical leader Brian Mullins, sent off after 25 minutes for a moment of recklessness in which he decked Galway's Brian Talty.

But Rock is a winner. Dublin are winners.

Their first All-Ireland victory since 1977. And absolutely nothing can change that.

Dateline: September 22, 2013. The All-Ireland winning dressing-room?

Well, we eagerly await the coming Dublin v Mayo clash to find out which county will be doing the whooping and hurrahs, and which changing- room will be a silent tomb of lost dreams, vanquished hopes.

There is only one certainty: three generations of the Rock family will have a role to play on and off the pitch.

Blink and it's 1973. Barney the schoolboy. Blink again, it's 1983. Barney the senior football star. A few more more blinks and Barney is the Da with a proud career behind him, while the focus of the Rock clan is on 23-year-old Dean.

Truly, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

The pedigree is well established. Barney, nerveless on the frees for so many years for Dublin; Barney the opportunist who saved Dublin's bacon with a vital injury-time equalising goal against Cork in the '83 semi-final to force a replay; Barney the assassin who caught the misplaced ball from the Galway goalie in '83, and promptly despatched it back over Michael Conneely's head for the only goal of that final.

But, now it's Dean's turn. A couple of years ago, he was a skinny beanpole edging his way on to the Dublin squad.

The surname, of course, engaged a higher level of interest than might have been applied to other young emerging talent.

Dad Barney downplayed the Rock inheritance, anxious for Dean to make his own mark on the game without the pressure of being compared to his oul' fella. There wasn't much to talk about. Dean has kept himself out of the limelight, while injury sidelined him for virtually the whole 2011 season.

Pat Gilroy did not require young Dean's services for the Dubs when the business end of the 2012 season arrived.

Now? It's so, so different.

Dean is an O'Byrne Cup winner with DCU and an All-Ireland U-21 medal winner under Jim Gavin's guidance.

He's physically imposing and most importantly, Dean has shown that he possesses the coolness required for the highest level of inter-county football.

Barney reckons Dean is technically a better kicker of the ball than he was.

He approves of Dean's vision and willingness to pass the ball to a player in a better position.

IMPRESSED

The Da admits he was impressed with the son's performance when, after being sprung from the bench into the cauldron of the Allianz League final against Tyrone, Dean damped the rising tide of Ulster defiance with two beautifully-taken points.

Since then Rock junior has been utilised in that impact-sub fashion to great effect by Gavin.

This was not a role that Barney filled very often, if at all.

In his time, as he recalls ruefully, Dublin players would be called ashore, usually after only making a couple of mistakes.

And, while he has to acknowledge that it's a different game nowadays, Barney is relieved that there wasn't so much player rotation when he wore the No 14 jersey for the Dubs.

"I wouldn't have found it easy to do what Dean has done, coming on from the bench and having to adjust to the pace of the game straight away.

"In my time, you'd be worried they'd take you off if you made a few mistakes, but now it's definitely a 20-man game.

"They seem to make substitutions to maintain the pace of a match and to keep the team driving on.

"Who'd have thought you'd see the day when Bernard Brogan would be taken off, but that's the way it is now," said Barney.

You have to wonder how tense the father will be in advance of the throw-in at Croke Park for this final, as opposed to all the finals he has played in and watched in his lifetime.

"I'd say I'll be fairly calm about it. Dean has worked really hard on his game for years and he looks after himself, which is the most important thing for a young fella.

"If I get the chance, I'll go and have a word with my uncle Joe, who's still looking after the Dublin dressing-room. And then I'll just be there watching the game and just hoping Dublin win," he said.

Barney is 52 years young now, and he probably has more All-Ireland 'appearances' under his belt than any player over the last 45 years.

That's because the Rock family have been part of the Croke Park experience for almost a century.

Barney's grandfather William was a long-serving member of the match-day staff and was on duty on that day of infamy that was Bloody Sunday, November 21, 1920.

"William would have died around 1970 and I remember my own father, Willie, saying that his dad never talked about Bloody Sunday.

"My uncle Joe started out picking up orange skins off the pitch as a six or seven-year-old kid in the days when the teams stayed on the pitch at half-time, and he's still involved at Croker.

"My father and uncle Christy worked on the stiles and my uncle John managed the scoreboard at the Canal End.

"When I was a kid, I used to be brought down to Croker by my dad, and he'd send me over to uncle Joe in the dressing rooms. That's how I was there in 1973 when I got Ray Cummins' shorts and Denis Long's socks.

"That was a big, big thrill. In those days, when we'd be playing out on the green, we all wanted to 'be' Denis Long, or Jimmy Barry-Murphy or Tony McTague.

"It's the reason I was playing and if a kid said: "Barney, any chance of a pair of knicks or stockings,' I just gave it to them. Those are little things, but they mean a lot to a kid,"

Of course, there is nothing like an All-Ireland win to inspire the youth of any county, but when he recalls the 1983 final, Barney can see, with the passage of time, how close Galway came to swinging the match their way.

"Maybe if the conditions hadn't been so bad, it might have been a classic, but funny enough, I don't think the conditions helped Galway when they were chasing the game.

LEAD

"We had a six-point lead at half time and against the wind, we just had to keep so many players back behind the ball, especially when it got down to 12 against 14. I remember at one point clearing a ball off the goal line for a '50' as it was then. And Galway didn't punish us with that '50'.

"When you're involved in a game like that, you don't have time to think, you just keep going, and keep reacting to the play as it unfolds.

"If it happened nowadays, I don't think we'd have got out of it with a win. Back then, you didn't have corner-backs and full-backs that could come forward and get scores.

"No disrespect to the Galway lads who played in those positions against us that day, but if you saw a back coming forward to have a shot you weren't too worried.

"In the modern game, the scores can come from any sector of the field, but sure we were just delighted to hang on in there and get the win," said Barney.

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