Saturday 24 February 2018

How a rugby legend inspired Dean Rock to be free kick king for Dublin

Dean Rock kicks a '45'
Dean Rock kicks a '45'
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

For Dean Rock, stepping up to hit the frees for Dublin was partly in the breeding and partly in the feeding.

Of course his father Barney had taken dead balls for Dublin and that had a profound influence on the young Dean.

But tagging along with his dad as he trained a variety of club teams often saw him at some pitch or other with only a ball and a set of posts to kill the time.

There was only one thing for it from there.

"He would have managed a lot of teams when I was growing up and I just basically would have been doing it for something to do when the training sessions were going on. I'd kick frees."

In a dead ball situation, he's widely regarded as one of the best around now and says he's always thrived under the pressure.

Johnny Wilkinson. Photo credit: CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images

Even when he played rugby, he took the penalties and kept an eye on what Jonny Wilkinson was doing.

Wilkinson was known for his dedication to goal-kicking and Rock follows him in that regard.

On a given week he reckons he'll kick maybe scores of frees on his own to hone his technique.

"When I was younger, he would have been one of my sporting idols," Rock said of Wilkinson.

"I would have played a lot of rugby growing up, would have been a goal-kicker as well, so I'd have based a lot of my training on him.

"Certainly, you have to be very obsessive about it because, at the end of the day, you have a huge responsibility to the team that, if it's tight, you have to stick the ball over the bar," Rock says.

When Dean Rock played rugby he took the penalties and tried to follow Jonny Wilkinson's style Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
When Dean Rock played rugby he took the penalties and tried to follow Jonny Wilkinson's style Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

"I'm always trying to improve, get better and get those extra inches on it.

"Throughout the years, you grow and grow in confidence in terms of kicking frees on big days.

"At this moment in time, I'm extremely confident as a player and a footballer.

"The confidence comes from knowing that you've performed a kick 100 times in the last two or three weeks and that you're going to be able to put it over the bar. That's where I get my confidence."

For Rock, taking a moment to gather his composure is the key part of his routine.

"The main thing for me is to just get my heart rate down. It's just breathing and taking my time. That's pretty much my only approach to it.

"I'm not running 100 miles an hour to the free, the free will be taken when I'm good and ready, I suppose."

"It just comes down to mindset and stuff like that.

"You're learning and growing with every game you play, and learn different things each year.

"I'm certainly a better free-taker this year than I was last year. It's just from experience, and just being out there doing it that you can block out stuff more and more.

"I enjoy standing over free-kicks and being in that pressure situation."

Rock has long been noted for his free-taking but Dublin manager Jim Gavin has invested heavily in the Ballymun man.

He started every competitive game for Dublin last year and was the only player to do so.

And he has been front and centre in 2016 too and will be expected to start against Westmeath in Sunday's Leinster SFC final clash, though Rock is keen to point out that there is more to his game.

"I'm always improving as a footballer and working on different things to get better for the team and for me personally.

"I pride myself on my free-taking, it's a huge responsibility but there are also other certain aspects that I add.

"The last couple of years I've been injury-free, which has been great for me to be able to train all the time and to play games.

"As I said, I'm just really enjoying my football now. I'm 26 and having the time of my life playing with a great group who are best friends, a real driven group, so it's absolutely brilliant."

Irish Independent

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