Saturday 3 December 2016

Dublin's prince of free-takers wants his stats to be Rock-solid

Published 30/11/2016 | 02:30

Rock: “I finished with maybe 89 or 90pc (conversion) from frees. But I would have finished up with probably 95pc or so had it not been for the drawn game.” Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Rock: “I finished with maybe 89 or 90pc (conversion) from frees. But I would have finished up with probably 95pc or so had it not been for the drawn game.” Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Prior to the drawn All-Ireland final, Dean Rock had taken 41 frees in the five championship games that Dublin had played and missed or fallen short with just three.

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It was a 93pc return - as good as you could expect from any player whose distance ranges from beyond the 45-metre line and at angles that don't align for a right-footed kicker.

But on a difficult day for kicking off the ground he surpassed his seasonal total of misses in one match. It grated with him that he allowed the conditions to dictate his settings.

Normal service resumed in the replay, when he nailed seven from seven after reverting to kicking from the hands. "I finished with maybe 89 or 90pc (conversion) from frees. But I would have finished up with probably 95pc or so had it not been for the drawn game," Rock (below) reflects.

Even in victory the Ballymun Kickhams sharpshooter has been able to learn from adjustments made in technique which he feels will stand to him in the future, so much so that he doesn't envisage missing four kicks again.

"It was very difficult," he admits of the drawn game and the challenges he faced. "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 (he scored 12 points - 10 from frees) was perfect. Then you were wearing studs, 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 had to run up a bit quicker.

"Certainly it's one of those things that I learned from going into the next day, and something I'll learn from again. Touch wood, I don't think I'll ever miss four frees in a game again."

Rock has grown in confidence with the responsibility of being free-taker, duties he took over after 2014 from Stephen Cluxton and Bernard Brogan.

He hadn't started a league game under Jim Gavin up to 2015 but then enjoyed a run of games that saw him start every competitive fixture that year.

It paved the way for a great 2016 for Rock, who is the latest player to complete the father-son All-Star link, following in Dad Barney's footsteps, and he is already looking to build on that next year - with further scope for improvement.

"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 I'd always be just practising frees. He was playing with Garristown at the time and I would have known that he was a free-taker with Dublin," recalls Rock during the GAA-GPA All Stars tour to the Middle East.

"I wouldn't have been going kicking a ball on the run - I would always just be kicking frees, so it's kind of ingrained in me. I would have kicked frees under Jim (Gavin) for three years for U-21s, so he obviously had a lot of faith in my ability to do a job for the team.

"I'd have enough confidence in my own ability. I study my kicks all the time and video my free-kicks and learn different ways how to do it.

Collective

"I model myself on a lot of rugby guys, how they move from the collective team game into an individual (mode) when kicking frees. You're going to have to shift the focus onto yourself, and once the ball is kicked you're back into the team thing for the kick-outs.

"As a free-taker you're always developing, you're always getting better and learning new things. I feel 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 was able to build on the personal disappointment of being taken off at half-time in the 2015 All-Ireland final, with the bigger picture of a second All-Ireland title for the team making it a soft landing. "Obviously, the team won. That's the main thing," he says. "But everyone looks at themselves individually at the end of the season as to where they can improve.

"So I took it on the chin and 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. Everyone faces adversity in their careers and their life. Everyone that's here (on the All Stars tour) would have gone through it at some stage.

"I've had my ups and downs. I'm certainly enjoying it at the minute. 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."

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