Dean Rock: Zen and the art of place-kicking
Dublin forward happy to take practical tips from the likes of Ireland outhalf Jonny Sexton
Dean Rock: “I went down to Donnybrook, watched him [Sexton], learned a few things, and kind of tailored my training to that the following year.” Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Since his schoolboy days, Dean Rock has been studying their every move, absorbing, mimicking, then putting into practice what can never be perfected.
It’s the something and everything about Zen and the art of place kicking, and for Rock some of the best exponents of it are in the game of rugby.
That’s not a misprint: Gaelic football will always be his trade, only Rock admits he watches more rugby than football or hurling, all eyes on Ireland’s latest showdown against New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. And what if he’d gone to a top rugby school?
“Yeah, massive interest in the rugby,” says Rock, speaking at an AIG event suitably designed to share some skills with the New Zealand rugby team.
“And I’d watch more rugby than I would football or hurling, all the New Zealand club stuff, the Super 15. Obviously I’m not watching the forwards muck around, but from a kicking perspective, obviously, I’d keep a good eye on all the goal kickers, watch it with huge interest.”
Rock attended CUS on Leeson Street, the big achievement during his six years being making the first round proper of the Leinster Senior Cup. There was no Gaelic football in the school so it was a natural fit alongside his rise through the Dublin minor ranks, and underage football at Ballymun Kickhams.
“And I played against Jack McGrath once,” he says of the Irish prop, formerly of St Mary’s College.
“I was standing on the wing, as far away as possible. I combined it with the Dublin minors at the time, really enjoyed it, it’s a good game.”
“But I was always a bit better at the football, was always going to go with that. Obviously the big thing was to one day play for Dublin rather than play for Leinster or anything like that. There was never any real competition between the two, and no regrets, absolutely not.
“But there are lots of transferable skills, as I played fullback or wing. So catch and kick, and place kicks. But It would be disrespectful to the guys that are there [playing rugby], to say that I’d be good enough to play.”
Understandably, given the influence of his father, (Barney Rock, Dublin All-Ireland winner in 1983), that’s where his rugby playing days finished, but five All-Irelands of his own later, Rock still keeps a close eye on the game.
Last year he joined Jonathan Sexton on one of his place-kicking lessons, and he’s also had a practice session with Dave Alred, the British kicking and performance coach whose clients included Sexton and Jonny Wilkinson.
“I would have met Jonny Sexton at a number of different things, and we’d bounce a few things off each other and he invited me to come along to a kicking session last year. I was obviously delighted to go, went down to Donnybrook, watched him, learned a few things, and kind of tailored my training to that the following year.
“You’re obviously trying to improve each year, and rather than just read the books, go out and do different things. A couple of practical sessions with those two guys were invaluable to me. Just the technique and the mindset around the whole thing, your routine, and trying to shift yourself from the team mindset into and individual mindset as quickly as you can for each kick
“There’s lots of transferable skills between every sport. It’s just putting them into practice, up to each individual to put their own stamp on it.”
The last major test of Rock’s place-kicking was Dublin’s All-Ireland final against Tyrone, which he began by missing not only his first but second attempt at goal. Given all he learned from Sexton and company what goes through his mind in that moment?
“You f***in’ eejit!” says Rock, instantly taking the Zen out of the art.
“But it’s gone so quick, the ’keeper has the ball on the tee. But obviously you have a moment when you’re, like, ‘shit’. But then you completely change back into the team mindset, think ‘what can I do now to try and turn over the kick-out or mark up your man’.
“The experience thing, you know you’ve been there before, you’ve come through it, and the next one, you’re going to get it. Obviously after the first one I would be saying to myself ‘you’re going to get the next one’. Then that didn’t go over so you just have to keep reaffirming to yourself that you’ve done this before.
“You’re going to get an opportunity. I managed to get one from play, got myself into it, then the rest came from there. You don’t plan to miss your first two frees in a final. But a bit of mental strength and bit of belief in yourself. You’re not going to miss three in a row.”