Rock-solid convictions about what really matters

A day job with the disability charity Stewarts Care has changed Dean Rock’s life

Dublin’s Dean Rock: “I’m quite proud of who I am as a person and who I represent, and football has been a massive part of that.” Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Here he is, the Dublin footballer. The gilded prince floating above life’s quotidian concerns. Born in luxury, raised in opulence, the championship but a pillow upon which to lay his worry-free head. Set-up for life with an easy number in a cushy job, and sure the hoor probably doesn’t even pay tax. AIG probably takes care of that for him. Yeah. No. Good story, but no.

Dean Rock folds his laptop away in a coffee shop just in off the Ballymun junction of the M50. For the past six months he has taken on the role of fundraising manager for Stewarts Care, one of the biggest disability organisations in the State. Stewarts is a registered charity with over 1,000 staff on the go and the same again in clients. But up until just before Christmas it had nobody to co-ordinate much beyond bucket-shaking and tin-rattling.

Rock joined it straight out of DCU six years ago, a sports health and science degree under his belt. He coached swimming and athletics to people with disabilities, and worked to get a state-of-the-art gym up and running. On the face of it you could have said it was exactly what you thought it was – a countyman’s sinecure in a hassle-free gym, a grand way to put down the hours until training.

In reality the work has changed Rock’s life. More even than playing for Dublin. Deeper, certainly, than kicking the winning point in an All-Ireland final. In that line of work, you do your best for who you can with what you have. But you always bump your head off the ceiling long before you want to.



When the chance came up to organise looking for more – and more regular – funding, he figured being Dean Rock, Dublin footballer, couldn’t hurt. The normal run of things is for the county player to use his name to take the stress out of his working life. Rock is using his the other way round. Chasing people for money is nobody’s idea of a handy gig.

“I would have felt I’d like to move on to different things within the organisation,” he says. “I feel quite attached to it because it’s something I feel passionate about. Some of my best friends are in there, some of them are service users.

“It’s incredible working with people like that on a day-to-day basis. It just helps you stay grounded and makes you realise how lucky you are to be able to go and train. Stewarts, without a doubt, has changed my life. In lots of ways.

“I feel obliged now to want to help and change the lives of other people because of it by generating enough funds to get different projects going and keep helping the people who need it.

“I would have always hoped that football would give me a platform to be successful in my work life. I think football has done that, certainly at the moment it’s allowed me to help as many people as I can. Helping people in Stewarts Care is my main purpose in life.

“Obviously being successful in sport and trying to play for as long as I possibly can is important to me. But that profile that comes from it is part of a much bigger thing, helping more people as I go along day-to-day.”

Yeah, yeah, you’re thinking. Settle down there, Mother Teresa. But Rock couldn’t be more serious about this. It’s far more than a do-gooder’s wishy-washy design for life. It has become the starting point for everything else he does.

Different outlook

“From a life perspective, as a person it has completely changed me. It’s given me a completely different outlook on life. It’s made me look at sport and football in a different way. I would have thought that this is everything, that football is all that matters, that whether or not I played for Dublin was by far the most important thing in life. And then whether we were successful or not was the most important thing.

“But there’s far, far more to life than football. There’s way more important things to be thinking about. I have no doubt that loving the job manifests itself on the pitch. It allows you that bit of freedom that maybe before you were holding back.

Dean Rock kicking the winning point against Mayo in the 2017 All-Ireland final in Croke Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

“I probably took football a bit too seriously when I was younger. At the end of the day it’s a hobby and a pastime. Obviously it’s a hobby and a pastime that I take very seriously, a professional hobby and pastime. But if you treat it as the only thing that matters, you won’t free yourself enough to fully do it.”

Freedom on the pitch is not something he has struggled with. Not recently, at any rate. The sheer tonnage of his scoring totals for Dublin can fool you into thinking he has been a cornerstone of the Dublin set-up for donkey’s years. In fact, as recently as 2015 he had one championship start to his name and zero starts in the league.

Yet here he sits, Dublin's sixth-highest scorer of all time, according to Gerry Callan's brilliant record book The Dubs. And, assuming no disasters, a cert to pass Charlie Redmond into fifth long before this summer's Leinster final. Ahead of him then will be Kevin Heffernan, his Da, Bernard Brogan and Jimmy Keaveney. The gods.

Going to ice it

His free-taking has reached the point where it’s little more than a rent-book entry for Dublin. Steady, dependable, never in doubt. His last bad day on the frees was the 2017 All-Ireland final; he grabbed his reprieve in the replay with seven unimpeachable place kicks. The smile on Diarmuid Connolly’s face when he won that injury-time free against Mayo last September told its own story. Nobody doubted Rock was going to ice it.

“That’s why you’re there,” he says. “That’s why you’re entrusted by the group. Everyone has huge belief in you that when it comes to that situations – you’re going to put the ball over the bar. As a free-taker that’s where you feel most comfortable sometimes, even in those uncomfortable settings where it’s a very tight game, a draw game or whatever that needs to be won.

“I just love that challenge of being put in those situations. I have had chances to win games or draw games numerous times with the last kick of the ball through my career. Some have gone over, some haven’t.

“But I relish the challenge every time. That’s where you want to be. You want that responsibility when the game is there to be won.”

May rolls around and the Dubs roll on. They took a full break from each other through April – no county training, no team meetings, nothing. As we finish up Rock says he’ll kill half an hour before training by calling in to James McCarthy who lives around the corner. Then they’ll head to St Clare’s for training with the Friday evening sun on their backs, and the start of the road to four-in-a-row laid out ahead of them.

Pure enjoyment

“The big thing for me with football is just that I’m enjoying it so much. Playing now is like playing when I was 14 or 15. It’s pure enjoyment. And that wasn’t always the case. There were stages when I was 21, 22, 23 where it was playing on my mind too much. Whereas now I like the whole distraction of work and daily life, and at the end of the day just rocking it training and getting my head down to work hard for a couple of hours before stepping away from it again.

“I think in that respect football has helped me just walk around with some confidence in myself. It has given me something to be quite proud of. I’m quite proud of who I am as a person and who I represent, and football has been a massive part of that.”

A gilded life after all.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times