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Solid as a Rock as history is made

HERO RELUCTANT TO LINGER ON HIS RECORD-BREAKING EVENING'S WORK

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Dean Rock of Dublin celebrates after scoring his side's first goal. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Dean Rock of Dublin celebrates after scoring his side's first goal. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Brian Fenton of Dublin is tackled by Ronan Jones of Meath (L). Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Brian Fenton of Dublin is tackled by Ronan Jones of Meath (L). Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Thomas O’Reilly of Meath and Dublin’s Paddy Small get acquainted. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Thomas O’Reilly of Meath and Dublin’s Paddy Small get acquainted. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

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Dean Rock of Dublin celebrates after scoring his side's first goal. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Dean Rock brought an historic glint to a frequently disturbing autumnal premiere for Dessie Farrell and Dublin.

Rock, as unerring as a master surgeon making careful incisions at the operating table, compiled a meticulous body of work that carried him to the highest rung of Dublin's all-time scoring ladder.

Requiring just a goal to overtake Jimmy Keaveney as the most lethal marksman in the eternal Sky Blue story, he emulated his recent unblemished county final tally of 1-8.

Prolific

Short of the absolute lockdown so many fear is imminent, there is no obvious way to decommission Rock.

On a ghostly, landmark, long-anticipated October night, his meticulous radar untroubled by the eerie silence, Rock, imperious and unhurried, eased himself into uncharted terrain as the most prolific of all Dublin footballers.

Immersed in Dublin's famed team ethic, he was reluctant to linger on his record-breaking evening.

"It is a huge achievement, nice for my family and my club. Something I'll look back on when my career is over."

While Rock delivered the capstone statistic on the night of football's treasured return, there were some troubling take-aways for Farrell.

If - and it is an "if" as mammoth as a Times Square billboard - the Championship can face down Covid, Jim Gavin's successor has some kinks requiring urgent smoothing.

Johnny Cooper suffered a concerning ankle twist - though Farrell was confident enough afterward to play down its seriousness - just three weeks out from Dublin's scheduled opening fixture.

Meath, regarded by the odds-makers as fodder for their illustrious neighbours, scored 19 times, were within a single kick entering injury time and, might have asked even more searching questions had they not squandered several goal chances during a mid-game period of dominance. That showing will please boss Andy McEntee (inset)

Farrell did not hide from the sloppy return: "For us it is about consistency of performance. Some very good stuff, some stuff that we have to work on the practice ground."

David Clifford and Kerry will have noted how the game's standard setters were unusually porous.

If Dublin were something short of the well-oiled machine that have pushed out the boundaries over the past decade there were still ominous signs for their rivals.

Con O'Callaghan and Ciaran Kilkenny were immediately at championship pace, menacing and poised, delivering a barrage of scores that might have been plucked from their summer highlight reel.

Brian Fenton immediately summoned some of the old authority which has made him the benchmark against which all other midfielders are measured.

And Rock, as precise and glittering as a diamond-studded Rolex, was the headline act as inter-county Gaelic games stirred itself from its near eight-month hibernation.

Discussions between NPHET and government might deem this the most ephemeral return to action - but the kings of September, while not at their purring best, offered flickers of offensive majesty.

An early Rock goal, a facile finish to an empty net after Paddy Small had thieved a short kick-out, elevated the Ballymun tower above Hill 16's beloved Keaveney's 30-402 career tally and into the stratosphere.

Decades

Keaveney, Bernard Brogan and Dean's own father, Rock, would all be candidates for Dublin's Mount Rushmore.

Yet, the younger Rock, still just 30, now looks down on that illustrious trio from his summit perch, the 29-time All-Ireland champions leading all-time scorer.

After an annulled summer, Dublin's first competitive fixture in 231 days brought them to Parnell Park, the laboratory where, almost five decades ago, Kevin Heffernan discovered the chemistry that triggered the city's Big Bang.

For Farrell, simultaneously lodged on both the most attractive and daunting perch in football, Kerry loom as large now as they did for Heffo in the 1970s.

Clifford's six point masterclass that did for Monaghan earlier in the day a reminder of how the Munster titans' are seeking to build on last year's two-game heavyweight duel with their great rivals.

Meath, once rivalled Kerry as the team Dublin supporters most liked to take down.

The empty, echoing playhouse stood in sad contrast to those claustrophobic championship days when meetings between the two counties amounted to the last word in box-office platinum.

Epic

In 1991, four imperishable games between Leinster's old firm seized the title deeds to the long days - the endless, breathless epic attracting 250,000 through the turnstiles.

Last night, the squat little arena enclosed by the Malahide Road, Collins Avenue, Clontarf Golf Club and Donnycarney Church had the air of a deserted village, the terraces ghostly, the main stand speckled with no more than a few masked and socially distanced officials and media folk.

After such a drawn out and unseasonable hibernation, there were as many pressing pre-match points of discussion as there were people looking on from the bleachers.

But one talking point towered over others.

It was the one we might dub Project Big Picture, the question of whether this would be a fleeting, one-off return before a second suffocating national lockdown.

The sense - with Covid cases soaring, Leitrim conceding a walkover earlier in the day and government in conclave with NPHET just down the road - was that the imminent, unprecedented winter championship is hanging by a thread.

The flip side is that football's return offered hope, an antidote to despair, the kind of mental nourishment and sense of connection craved by so many isolated, lonely folk.

Rock's masterclass would certainly have brought some October cheer to Dublin fans tuned in from afar.