They are a vital component for any successful teams in all four GAA codes. Their expertise can be called upon more than any other player in a game and it can be a very lonely job and the players in question can come in for fierce criticism when they have an off day.
Of course we are talking about that special breed of player, the teams freetaker. In Dean Rock, Dublin have one, if not the best in the game.
Dublin’s success this season can be directly attributed to what the Ballymun Kickhams place kicker contributed, Rock successfully scored an incredible 47 frees from 54 attempts in this season championship campaign, which included vital scores against Donegal, Kerry and Mayo at the business end of the season.
After club championship commitments and injury had hindered Rocks chances of nailing down a regular starting spot in previous seasons, this year he made the jersey his own through Dublin’s winning League and Championship campaigns.
Besides his accuracy from dead balls, Rock offered even more this season from open play with a more aggressive but controlled style of tackling which seen him turn the ball over to greater effect.
But even with all the brilliance Rock showed this year, there was still some pundits and supporters ridiculously questioning his starting position for the All Ireland Final Replay after Rock had a rare off day from frees in the drawn game.
Conditions for that drawn final were atrocious on the day as the sporting Gods decided they would for the second year in a row try to turn the Croke Park pitch into a swimming pool. Rock admitted that conditions that day affected his free taking technique.
“Yeah, it was very difficult. I would have looked back at all my tapes. It was all down to technique, pretty much. There was a change in the weather; we hadn’t played in as bad a weather as that.
“So all those things added up and, looking back now, I could have maybe rectified a few things, or thought in my head that I have to run up a bit quicker. But you know yourself, in the heat of the battle
“Certainly it’s one of those things that I learned from going into the next day. And something I’ll learn from going forward. Touch wood, I don’t think I’ll ever miss four frees in a game again.”
Some players may have been affected by those missed frees heading into an All Ireland Final Replay, but not Rock as he scored seven points from seven free kick attempts in a display of unwavering confidence in his own ability.
Rock though ever the perfectionist was speaking at the end of the GAA-GPA All Stars trip to the UAE and believes he can be an even better place kicker next season than he was this season.
“As a free-taker you’re always developing, you’re always getting better and learning new things. For me, I was a better free-taker in 2016 than I was in 2015, and I’d like to think I’ll be a better free-taker in 2017 than I was in 2016.”
That’s a scary prospect for any of Dublin’s upcoming opponents in 2017 and one that may continue Dublin’s recent dominance of the game and lead to even more League, Leinster and All Ireland titles heading to the capital.