Onus is on GAA to boost competition in hurling – Farrell
ONE of them is currently the joint league top scorer with Joe Canning and the other two are among the top eight scorers in this year's Allianz Hurling Leagues.
But who, outside their families and team-mates, would recognise inter-county hurlers Shane Nolan, Kenny Feeney and Stephen Clynch?
Nolan is the Kerry sharpshooter who has scored 4-29 to help the Kingdom to joint-top of Division 2A and Feeney and Clynch have scored 1-34 each for Mayo and Meath, respectively, in Division 2B.
But such is the gulf between the standard and promotion of hurling's lower divisions that their skills rarely get showcased at national level.
Meath manager Cillian Farrell believes the GAA has to shoulder the blame for this and has some pretty strong ideas on how to turn it around.
His Royal hurlers have already qualified for the Division 2B final, even before they play Armagh today.
"Stephen Clynch would have an All-Ireland by now if he played with one of the bigger hurling counties," Farrell insists, listing centre-back James Toher as another Meath hurler who could definitely cut it outside the county.
"There is a huge gulf in standard between Division 1 and 2, but there are some really good hurlers in Division 2 who could be given far more incentives," he says. "Hurling is in decline in many counties. They talk about competition from rugby and soccer, but I honestly think that competition for hurling comes from within the GAA itself, which needs to do a lot more to promote it."
A dual player with his native county, the Edenderry native was on the last Offaly hurling panel to win an All-Ireland in 1998.
And he believes a few simple strategies would have positive effects in hurling's lower rungs, starting with the timing of the subsidiary championships.
"The Christy Ring starts in May and will be finished by June 8 when the All-Ireland championship is only really starting. Why?
"If they played it later the final could be part of a double-header with a big championship hurling match in Croke Park which would be a massive boost for our players."
Farrell is also in favour of signing up some imports, once they are already living in the county and has recruited Limerick native Bart Hanley and former Tipp All-Ireland winning minor Tommy McGrath to the current Meath panel.
A sports science student at Setanta College, he also introduced a new strength and conditioning regime in Meath and has emphasised a youth programme. They were only beaten by a late Kildare goal in last year's Division 2B final.
Farrell also deliberately sought out players competing in top-class third level hurling, like Toher (NUI Maynooth), James Kelly (St Pat's, Drumcondra) and Stephen Morris (DIT).
Meath's legendary Leinster hurler Nicky Horan finally retired last summer, but Farrell believes many of their current crop could match his achievements if given the right opportunities and encouragement.