How football took off in Upperchurch-Drombane after clash with Maurice Fitzgerald's Cahersiveen 6 months ago

How football took off in Upperchurch-Drombane after clash with Maurice Fitzgerald's Cahersiveen

For Upperchurch-Drombane, it's not about matching Loughmore-Castleiney, far from it, it's about making their own piece of history.

What it is it about those mid-Tipperary clubs with the two-barrel names? And the band of brothers and the dual dreams?


Loughmore-Castleiney were the trailblazers in 2013, when they became the first Tipperary club ever to do the double. And if that wasn't enough, it would have done most clubs, they doubled the dose again in 2021, following their Tipperary senior hurling triumph one week with the football the next.

Their journey was unbelievable. John McGrath won something like five man-of-the-match awards in a row, swapping hurls for footballs every second Sunday as, from the outside looking in, we all asked the same question. Will we ever see the likes again?

Upperchurch-Drombane have some way to go yet. As a perennial nearly club, they don't need any of us to tell them that.

But as they go back to the footballs this week, on the back of winning a county hurling quarter final last weekend, the one thing you'd have to say is that, whatever way it all ends up, The Church are certainly going in the right direction.


Just ask JK Brackens.

They're another on the long list of mid-Tipperary dual clubs and their hopes were high just then. Five points up with nine minutes to go in last Sunday's county quarter final when, just like that, disaster struck.

It struck to the extent that they wouldn't score again un the game as Liam Dunphy's team reeled off seven unanswered points in a row. What makes it all the more painful for Brackens is the fact that, just eight days earlier, in the football quarter final, their campaign was ended by, you guessed it, Upperchurch-Drombane.

16 August 2020; Matt Ryan of Upperchurch Drombane during the Tipperary County Senior Hurling Championship Group 4 Round 3 match between Borris-Ileigh and Upperchurch-Drombane at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

So here they are now. They've never won a county senior title before, in either hurling or football (the club's predecessors Drombane won a senior hurling in 1894), they've never even won a senior divisional title before, but now they're chasing down the double.

"It's been a brilliant year so far," sports journalist and past player Stephen Gleeson tells us of their journey.

"It's one of those years you dream about. To be in the latter stages of the hurling and football championship, it's something they've been trying to do for a few years.


"This year it's just clicked. The strength and conditioning has improved an awful lot this year. The selector Andy Kinane made the point to me that when they watched back the match against Kiladangan in last year's hurling championship, they just felt they didn't have the strength to take on Kiladangan in those last few moments. So that's benefited them."

There's no doubt about that.

"When the two are going side-by-side, it's great," Gleeson says of the code-juggling.

"When you win one week, you're on a high, and then you've a light session and it's onto the next one.

"There's no way someone would say 'aw I'm not going to play football this week.' You play both because that's what your club wants you to do. You're representing your club all the time, be it in hurling or football. No matter what it is."


Whether it's hurling or football, Upperchurch-Drombane have 40 players down at the field most nights. Many of them are brothers. More of them are cousins. Hurling is their first love but on a senior panel of 30, only three or four don't play football. The story of how football took hold of the area is worth re-telling.

"Football took off in the club about 20 years ago," says Gleeson.

"We won a Junior A county football final against Ballina. After that, we went up to intermediate. We had a second football team then. Men like Conor O'Dwyer have been inspirational in driving the football in the club. He's the chairperson of the Tipperary football board, used to play football for Tipperary and he's put in a huge effort there.

"Then in 2015, we won the intermediate football, became senior for the first time ever, and we went on a run - it was a Maurice Fitzgerald-managed St Mary's Cahersiveen that knocked us out of that. Bryan Sheehan was playing too. We were leading for a long way that day and they clawed us back. They went onto win the All-Ireland that year.

"We've held it as a senior club since, hadn't made the breakthrough, but we have this year and everyone in Upperchurch takes huge pride in that."

And now, as pointed out by sports journalist Conor McKenna, along with Ballyboden St Enda's, Cratloe, Éire Óg, Naas, Na Fianna, St Finbarr's, Slaughtneil, Moycullen and Kildimo Pallaskenry, Upperchurch-Drombane are one of nine senior clubs who could still win the All-Ireland club football and hurling championships this year.

1 November 2015; Denis Daly, St Mary's, in action against Gavin Ryan, Upperchurch Drombane. AIB Munster GAA Intermediate Club Football Championship Quarter-Final, Upperchurch Drombane, Tipperary, v St Mary's, Kerry. Leahy Park, Cashel, Co. Tipperary. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

They'd surely be happy enough with a maiden county but at least they can dream.

For the most part, it's the same management team in both codes though Liam Dunphy takes the lead with the hurlers, as Eoin Shortt - a first cousin of the McGraths of Loughmore - takes the lead with the footballers.

Their junior teams are flying too. The hurlers are in the upcoming Junior A semi-final while the footballers will contest a mid-Tipperary final this Friday.

And who's up first in this Sunday's football semi-final, standing between Upperchurch and a first ever county senior football final? Wasn't it always going to be them, the men of Loughmore-Castleiney.


Watch 'Hurling in the Hills,' a film about the Upperchurch-Drombane club history here.