craobhing a return to the big time
Chiaráins manager expects huge test from St Brigid's
REMARKABLY, this is the 22nd year in Dublin senior hurling for Ger Ennis.
Ger is still one of the fittest players in Dublin.
"He's running around like a 20-year-old," says the Craobh Chiaráin manager, David Kelly.
Ger, a nimble, sharp forward, is as elusive as an eel. An eel with springs in the heels.
He's known as the Craobh Hare.
He was the club's Senior Hurler of the Year last season.
"He's a great role-model. He has looked after himself over the years, and that is why he's still playing at this level," adds Davy.
Ger helped Chiarain's to their opening Dublin SHC Group 1 win over Na Fianna.
Next up is St Brigid's this Friday in Parnell Park. The Russell Park side drew with O'Toole's in their first outing.
"This will be another tough one for us," predicts Dave. "I'd say there will only be the puck of a ball in it.
"It's a tough group. I'd reckon we are all on equal terms. There's nothing between us. Any two teams could come out of it."
The match against Brigid's revives memories of 2004 when Craobh beat them in the final.
The celebrated Connie Ring converted nine placed balls. Ger Ennis returned 1-3.
It was the first time Brigid's had walked on the blue carpet.
It was a significant day for Brigid's selector, John Bourke, who had so many fond days in Donnycarney.
Mick McGuckian led Chiaráins to that success. Two years later, Dave was the manager as they lifted the Dublin prize again.
Alan McCrabbe was the top teller with a goal and six frees. It was their fifth title.
In 2009, Dave was also in the dugout as Chiaráins lost the final to Ballyboden St Enda's.
"That was our last big day out," reflects Dave.
He also captained the club in county finals. He played with men who are minted in Craobh concrete. Among them Murty Ryan, Tommy Ryan, Derek Finn, Hedgo and the current club chairman, Aidan O'Toole.
Dave himself had a stint as chairman. He played football as well for the club. He also guided the Craobh footballers to Senior Division 1.
His basket overflows with honours, from the juveniles days to senior level.
"We have had such wonderful memories going back over the years."
The locality remains a hurling hotbed. Seán Shanley is the County Chairman.
Jonny McGuirk is managing the Dublin minors, and McCrabber is a former All-Star.
"Alan was brilliant against Na Fianna. It was one of the best games that I have ever seen him play. Real top drawer stuff."
Kieran McGouran got the vital goal. "That was crucial. It gave us a lift.
"We were behind for most of the match. We dug in. And that was encouraging to see."
The dash of youth is also bringing optimism. "We are in Division 1 in Minor and we haven't been at that level for a few years.
"Hopefully, we'll get a few more lads coming through from there over the next while.
"We have a few minors in the senior panel, and they all doing well." The likes of Daniel Cullen, Mark Hayes, Dylan Keeley and Dave's son, Paul, who is also with the Dublin minors.
Following in the foot-steps of his older brother, Darren, who has decorated the Dublin U21s, just like his Dad.
"Young Mark Hayes came on against Na Fianna the other night and he played really well. It looked like he had been playing at this level all along. It didn't faze him. It was great to see."
Stephen Chester is the Craobh captain. He is one of the most experienced number ones in the county.
He knows the feel of the blue gloves. And he's a leader of men who have commitment as their middle name.
There has never been a side with more resolve in Dublin hurling. Grinding out results with sheer will-power.
"It was the bit of experience that got us over the line against Na Fianna in the last ten minutes. And it's always great to get the win in your first match.
"If you top your group, you have a good chance of avoiding the 'big boys' as such. But the standard is so high now in Dublin."
Dave has seen the changing of the guard. He played against the famous Faughs, who top the Dublin Hurling Leader-Board by some distance with 31 titles.
O'Toole's, St Vincent's and Cuala have also made their mark through the decades.
Then came the emergence of UCD in the noughties before Ballyboden ruled the world with their five-in-a-row.
Now, Kilmacud Crokes are the champs, beating St Jude's who reached their first final. Lucan Sarsfields also made it to their first final in recent times, and the Dublin hurling landscape continues to develop.
"It has improved such a great deal in the last few years. There's some real quality teams around.
"You just have to look at the likes of Crokes, Cuala and Boden, and all the county players they have.
"The likes of those sides should top their groups and they would have to be considered among the main Championship contenders."
Cuala lead Group 2 from Lucan, Faughs and Ballinteer St John's.
Boden are joint leaders of Group 3 with Jude's. St Patrick's, Palmerstown and Crumlin are also in the section.
The champs, Kilmacud, and Setanta head Group 4 from St Vincent's and Parnell's.
Dave's managerial colleagues include the Fingal hurling manager, Mick Kennedy, the Fingal selector, Seán McGarry and Eoin Conroy.
Kind sponsorship has come from Spratt Logistics. Paddy Spratt was a dear friend of the club.
The squad have spent many hours on the Clonshaugh Crucible.
"A lot of work has gone in. The lads are certainly fit."
Fit and eager for Championship. It was never any other way for the Craobh.
They'd love to be back in the knock-out stages and to see the great Paddy O'Gara running onto the stage with those magic bottles.