Unique 2020 season ends with a finale like no other

by Stephen Findlater

In a year like no other, Dublin’s footballers are gearing up for a weekend like no other with three All-Ireland championship finals at Croke Park in under 30 hours to look forward to. 

The Under-20 men start the festivities on Saturday at 2.15pm against Galway at HQ before the senior men take centre-stage at 5pm against Mayo in pursuit of a sixth successive title. 

Sunday is ladies day with Cork the opposition standing in the way of four in-a-row at 3.30pm, making it the kind of weekend not seen before in the history of Gaelic games. 

For Ballymun Kickhams’ Dean Rock, the men’s final offers a chance to complete the perfect year having helped his club to a Dublin club title during the summer. 

In a strange way, he credits 2020’s disruptions as potentially offering a path to rejuvenation for him and many of his counterparts to recharge the batteries following the exertions that went into 2019’s memorable fifth successive All-Ireland. 

“After the All-Ireland last year, the league probably came on us quicker than usual,” he said ahead of the final.  

“Maybe it was a blessing in disguise with the championship delay – who knows? – but it gave a reprieve from a mindset perspective. 

“Then we got a full go at the club championship, not just the usual two or three weeks playing in tough, cold conditions. It was nice to go to Poppintree Park and train where we trained as kids which was truly refreshing.” 

Since then, he has gone on to surpass Bernard Brogan and Jimmy Keaveney to be Dublin’s all-time highest scorer, further cementing his position among the all-time greats. 

Such accolades seemed a long way off eight years ago when even breaking into the team seemed a long way off. 

“There were times I really doubted myself. I remember it vividly getting dropped off the panel in 2012 – Chelsea were playing Bayern Munich – via a phonecall from Pat Gilroy.  

“I probably thought at the time I was getting a call to play against Wexford in the championship. I wasn’t deemed good enough at the time and so I went down to Garristown the next day and just went running and running for hours until my dad had to pick me up.  

“That is the resilience you probably need. Like any sportsperson, you have your setbacks. I certainly had them and could easily have walked away. I made a pact with myself that day that I would do whatever I could.  

“The club kind of rescued me that year, winning the championship, and that set me up for when Jim [Gavin] came in 2013 and from there, I never looked back.”  

Rock says that kind of resilience runs throughout the panel with Ballyboden St Enda’s Robbie McDaid the latest example. 

While the championship to date has been a comfortable one, Rock says the Dubs face a Mayo side who are similarly refreshed and could be the strongest challenge for many years. 

“Mayo have a lot of new guys we haven’t come up against before, the likes of Tommy Conroy, Eoghan McLoughlin, who will give us a different challenge. They are scoring freely – 5-20 is great shooting – and not hitting many wides.  

“When you attack so much, you will obviously leave holes and that’s the same for every team. Some of those scores came toward the end of the game.  

“All you can take is Mayo on their face value, winning three games away from home in Connacht, and then were hugely impressive against Tipperary and potentially the best Mayo team we have ever met.”

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