Rock says Dublin’s breach of training ban ‘a deeply regrettable incident’
Star forward forthright about controversy as he looks ahead to national league campaign
Dean Rock: “Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and after experiencing it now, it should never have happened, and would never happen againI.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Such was the gentle interrogation into events surrounding the morning of March 31st at the Inisfails’ ground in north Dublin that Dean Rock might well have been tempted to shy – or even sly – away in some way. Especially for someone who wasn’t even there.
Instead, the Dublin forward takes the stand in front of what at times feels like judge and jury and never once breaks down or softens his stance; breaching both the GAA’s training ban and Covid-19 restrictions – perceived by some the next day as an April Fools’ – is in no way acceptable, only deeply regrettable.
Speaking at an event for Dublin sponsors AIG, Rock is also the first panel member to comment in detail on what exactly unfolded that morning. It was, he says, also a once-off – the 12-week suspension handed down to manager Dessie Farrell, and loss of home advantage for one of their league games, also accepted after the GAA’s own investigation.
“Obviously it created a lot of attention, and rightly so,” he says. “It was a deeply regrettable incident that obviously should never have happened, something that we regret.
“I know an apology was put out at the time, and if I could just follow-up with that, and apologise for what happened. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and after experiencing it now, it should never have happened, and would never happen again. We’ve taken the accountability for it, taken the punishment, and looking forward to probably just moving on now, and the national league.
“The big thing is you take the lesson from it. Sometimes as an intercounty footballer you maybe think it’s the most important thing out, the only important going on, whereas with hindsight and reflection there are far more important things in life than Gaelic football, and sport, and that’s one of the big learnings for me, to take away from it. And I know that’s the same for the lads as well.”
Farrell’s suspension, first imposed the following day by Dublin GAA, before Croke Park effectively reimposed it, will see him off the sideline until July 1st: Mick Galvin will take over as interim manager, beginning with Sunday’s trip to Roscommon.
Rock is suitably diplomatic on the question of whether “elite status” should ever have been removed from the inter-county game – and indeed whether more counties were in breach of it (Down, Cork and Monaghan the only other ones to face sanction).
“It was one of them things, a decision was made, it was a right call for the GAA, and we obviously made a mistake. I suppose just from experience, I don’t what kind of training elite sports do, but as footballers and hurlers around the country, I’m sure lads train five or six times a week.
“So maybe that does qualify as elite, but it’s not really for me to say. We take our games very seriously, as Gaelic footballers and hurlers, but lucky to be back training now, lots to look forward to.”
The Garda also sought the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), before deciding the situation should be dealt without recourse to fines or further prosecution (up to nine Dublin footballers were believed to be present).
“We understand, we’re a high-profile team. There were still lots of bad news stories around that time, and we were just another one, so we absolutely take responsibility and ownership for it, and we weren’t hiding away from the fact it was a regrettable decision. It was everywhere, and rightly so.
“The GAA did their own investigation, have a report on it, or I imagine they do. That was it, lads were there on the day, that was it, there were no more.”
For Rock, who also started a new job earlier this year with financial planning company Metis Ireland, with former Dublin team mate Paddy Andrews, there was no shying away at the time either.
“It was a talking point obviously, with anyone you met. For us, it was dealt with it, and for us that was kind of it, put to the back of my mind as well, so it didn’t really have a personal effect in any way.
“Look, I wasn’t there myself, but obviously the outdoors thing, people were obviously outdoors socialising, so I imagine that was sort of the premise behind it, being outside, doing a bit of running. It was one of those things, never should have happened, and if we could go back in time it certainly wouldn’t have happened.”
On his new role with his former team- mate, he says: “I’ve moved from Stewarts Care, had terrific work there, for a number of years, working with people with intellectual disabilities, and a lot of that worked shaped the person I am today, and I carry forward with a lot of values.”
Later, he also finds himself defending his Dean Rock Free Taking Project, or at least the €350 he was charging for an individual session, or €400 for two people: Rock references the success of Meath club Ballivor, who won a county junior football title after employing his services.
“I’m quite comfortable with it [the fee], I had to put a value on my time, the type of product I was providing to people. From talking to people, and from my own experience, that I felt was the right thing to do, and thankfully it’s been hugely successful, teams and individuals who have availed of it.
“Ballivor scored eight or nine frees, and won by two or three points. When it comes down to big games, free-taking is one of the things that matters in those crucial moments.
“Thankfully I could help them, they put in the work, put in the practice, and got the win. It may or may not have helped, I don’t know, But I have a hunch that it did.”