Rock keeps eye in with help of Sexton's kicking guru
Dean Rock had more than a passing interest in the AIG skills challenge that saw a handful of Dublin players take a selection of All Blacks in Dublin on Tuesday night.
The Dubs and New Zealand share a major sponsor but Rock also has a keen interest in rugby. He played in his school days with CUS in Dublin's city centre and plans on heading to the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night to watch the world's top two ranked sides go head to head, where'll he'll also keep a close eye out for the fortunes of Johnny Sexton.
Over the course of the past couple of years, the pair have struck up a friendship. A shared interest in dead-ball kicking was the common ground and early last year, Sexton invited Rock to Donnybrook to take part in a kicking session he had scheduled with guru Dave Alred.
Alred has worked with some of the biggest names in rugby but he's also the man Francesco Molinari credited with his meteoric rise from 78th in the world in 2016 to the top ten this year before delivering Italy's first Major championship. He had also worked briefly worked with Dublin under Tommy Lyons. And when Sexton offered the opportunity to work with him and Alred, Rock jumped at the chance.
"From a kicking perspective, obviously I'd keep a good eye on all the goal kickers (in rugby). And each team has a skills coach as well. I'd watch it with huge interest. Obviously I'm not watching much of the forwards muck around. It's more the backs and the general kicking.
"I would have done a session or two with Johnny Sexton and Dave Alred, a kicking session. I would have learned a huge amount from that.
"You're obviously trying to improve each year and try different things. Rather than just read the books, to be able to go out and do different things. A couple of practical sessions with those two guys was invaluable to me."
"I would have met Johnny at a number of different things and it just came up in conversation. We'd bounce a few things off each other and he invited me to come along to a kicking session. I was obviously delighted to go. I just went down to Donnybrook, watched him and learned a few things. Just kind of tailored my training to that the following year. Yeah (it was decent of him), he didn't mind. Dave Alred didn't mind either. Obviously he knew about the Dublin set-up from years gone by. It was great."
Time is slipping by for Rock. In this year's All-Ireland final, he was the oldest starting Dublin forward at 28, followed by Ciarán Kilkenny at 25.
"I wasn't aware of it prior to the game. Then after the game someone told me I was the oldest and I was 28. I was like, jaysus! It was a very young forward line. Ciarán was the next. He's 25. So I was the oldest by three years. I wasn't just the oldest. It was strange for me. Because me and James McCarthy, we would have grown up together and we would think that we're nearly young lads but obviously we're not at this stage.
"There are a lot of guys younger than us and guys coming up chomping at the bit and mad to play football. You're always on your toes and putting yourself in the position to play good football and train hard and put yourself in position to get one of the first 15 jerseys. That's what it's all about. I've always been kept on my toes, ever since I've been in the set-up. I've never taken my position for granted."
The Dubs will head on their team holiday after Christmas and after that the tilt at five in a row will start in earnest.
"We're going on holiday than after Christmas. So once we're back on the second week of January. We'll be back at it then. I think we have two weeks or two-and-a-half weeks before the Monaghan game up there.
"And that's pretty much the start of our season, the second week of January. Then roll into the second week in January. Getting fit by playing in games. It won't be long now really until it all starts back. Obviously December is a crazy month for everyone. Then straight on holidays and then back into it.
"It worked great for us last year. We played Kildare in the first game, we managed to get a good win early and then everything spiralled from there.
"We finished up with our last league game on October 31 with Ballymun so it's the first time with two months off. It's great to be able to relax."