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05th Oct 2023

“To keep your head for those seven days will be the hardest thing” – Two Tipperary clubs set for epic week

Niall McIntyre

Upperchurch-Drombane and JK Brackens will be living in each other’s hair for the next while.

Going back years, the two mid-Tipperary dual clubs have held a healthy rivalry but it has never known anything like the next few days.

Drom and Inch GAA grounds is literally a half-way-house between them, and that’s where they’ll meet this Saturday, to contest the Tipperary senior football semi-final.

That’s the glamour but seven days later, no time to die, they’re heading for the bottom floor. They’ll be sick of the sight of each other by then.

A mediocre season in Tipperary’s top tier of hurling means that, at the other end of the scale, both of them will be heading back to base for the only final no-one wants to play in.

In it, one of them will lose their longstanding status as a Tipperary senior hurling club as they contest the county’s hottest relegation final in years.

It’s estimated that, given the stakes involved, the game will attract as big a crowd as the county final itself.

“I would say the football is going to be a kick of a ball and I would say the hurling is going to be the puck of a ball,” says Upperchurch-Drombane native Stephen Gleeson, who will commentate on the football semi-final this Saturday for Tipp FM.

“If things go to form,” he says, “it will go down to the very last second in both.”

And that prediction makes perfect sense.

Hurling and Gaelic football are clearly very different games but conversely, Upperchurch-Drombane and JK Brackens line out with, for the most part, the same teams.

12 of the same players started in the last round across both codes, for both teams.

And what makes it all the more remarkable is that, under the virtually the same management teams too, the vast majority of them line out in very similar areas of the field.

“Paddy Cadell marshals centre back/midfield for Brackens in both,” says Gleeson.

“Gavin Ryan is centre back on both teams for Upperchurch. Paul Shanahan is around centre field for them or the half forward line.

“Upperchurch-wise, about 12 would be in the exact same positions, mirroring their roles in both codes.”

“And it’s the same for Brackens.

“They play the same type of game in hurling and football, in similar positions, working and running it up the field that way.

“But it’s a clash of styles. Upperchurch probably favour a longer ball if it’s on,” he says. “And that adds to it. The two guarantees when Brackens and Upperchurch meet is drama, and skill.”

It was fairly even-steven last year.

Upperchurch-Drombane won both of the rival’s knock-out county championship meetings but crucially, and ultimately, Brackens were the ones replenishing the trophy cabinet.

The Templemore based-outfit won the mid-Tipperary senior hurling and football titles in 2022 while, for the Church, their wait for senior silverware went on.

Amazingly, despite making the last four in the hurling and the last two in the football last year, Upperchurch-Drombane have never won a county/divisional senior title before, in either hurling or football (the club’s predecessors Drombane won a senior hurling in 1894 however.)


Gavin Ryan plays centre back on both Upperchurch-Drombane hurling and football teams.

“It will be heavy going,” surmises Gleeson.

“Some of my earliest sporting memories involve brilliant clashes between JK Brackens and Upperchurch-Drombane in the intermediate championship in the ’90s.

“Both of them found it really hard to get up to senior hurling, for seven or eight years between the late 80s and early 90s.”

Brackens eventually got up in ’97 and Church duly followed them up in ’98.

JK Brackens played in the senior ‘B’ when the Tipperary senior hurling championship was split in 2017, but they made it back in 2019 by winning the Senior B title with the last puck. Now they’ll be hoping to stay here.

“Historically, hurling would have been Upperhchurch’s core,” says Gleeson, “and Brackens would have been more football. But now both clubs are absolutely equal, split down the middle.

“Some lads might prefer one code over another. But the bottom line is that no matter what, they all just get on with it.”

Of all weeks, they’ll have to bring that attitude more than ever this week.

“Whoever loses the first match, the pressure levels are so high on them,” says Gleeson.

“Because at least for the team that wins the football, they have a county final to look forward to.

“To keep your head during the week will be the hardest thing.

“That bonus of the thoughts of getting to a county final could seep in. There’s the buzz of making a county final on one hand and then the sobering reality of relegation on the next.

“It’s high drama, and it’s going to be a serious punch for whichever club goes down.”

There are loads of little sub-plots to consider.

“Gavin Ryan would have been a teacher in Our Lady’s Templemore, and would have taught a lot of the Brackens players in recent times.

“Upperchurch’s Tipperary minor of last year Paddy Phelan, he would have gone to school in Our Lady’s Templemore, and he’d be pals with all of them.”

But the main plot is clear.

Upperchurch-Drombane and JK Brackens will be thinking about each other every morning they wake up this week and again when they go to bed at night. By Sunday week, it’ll be lights out for one of them…

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