Wicklow and Baltinglass defender Sarah Jane Winders in action in the All-Ireland Junior football final against Fermanagh. Winders scooped the Garden County GAA award for ladies football and was also named the Wicklow LGFA players’ gamer of the year for 2020

Wicklow’s All-Ireland Junior football champion project was rather irregular. Plagued by a string of withdrawals – owing to Covid-19 issues, in addition to individual factors – in addition to the controversial lack of the McGettigan siblings, their opening day clash with Carlow came strung together with a variety of underlying subplots.

Mark Murnaghan’s group went on to progress from the group stage with relative comfort, while a few of those gamers who were missing out on from the Carlow game returned over the subsequent weeks to provide the team much required depth.

Their season, although culminating in a defeat to Fermanagh in the final in Parnell Park, was built on the structure of its figured out and sustaining back four of Linda Dempsey in goal, along with their outstanding full-back line of Lucy Dunne, Emily Mulhall, and – especially – Sarah Jane Winders.

In between each video game, there was some degree of personnel and/or positional change, yet the full-back line was ever-present. The trio were anchored by the mind-blowing and trustworthy Winders.

Easily recognizable by her signature blue headband, the Baltinglass stalwart was a lynchpin at the heart of the rearguard, making her crowning as the gamers’ gamer of the year something of an inevitability.

‘ I do not know if there was anything that I did differently or if it was playing Junior championship football, however I mored than happy with the way I performed, anyway.

‘ We all sort of listened to each other,’ Winders stated, explaining the chemistry between herself and Mulhall and Dunne. ‘Despite the fact that I was fullback, I was informing the others to tell me where to go and they never ever had a problem with it. I think we all stepped up a bit and took leadership of organising the backs and we sweated off that and went from there.’

Having actually been relegated from the intermediate championship in 2019, the expectation for this team was to make it to the decider, a minimum of; an anticipation that persisted even with the comprehensive disruptions in mind. Their course to the last was rather uncomplicated. After topping the group with two wins from 2, they went on to play Antrim in the semi-finals.

A game in which the gulf in quality between the two sides was large, a swash-buckling Wicklow efficiency saw them acquire 7-11 by the end of the video game, although they were uncharacteristically negligent at the back, at times, as they conceded 3-10 to their lacklustre opposition.

The win established a meeting with Fermanagh, 2019 runners-up and the same side that Wicklow had beaten earlier in the competitors, in the finale, in Parnell Park. Regardless of trailing by four points at half-time, in addition to the loss of Aoife Gorman to a controversial yellow card, Wicklow clinch the game and drew level 12 minutes into the second-half, before the mercurial Eimear Smyth netted a goal from which the Garden could not recuperate.

Reflecting on the disappointing evening, Winders designated it a missed chance, while hoping that it can be used as a learning lesson going into 2021.

‘ We probably felt difficult done by being relegated, anyhow, and after that, I don’t know, when we were playing division three football, we took pleasure in playing a greater requirement of football. We, possibly, didn’t see just how much of a difficulty it would be, to keep playing at such a standard. Let’s state, against Antrim, they would not have actually been as strong an opposition as Fermanagh, but we let them score 3 goals or four objectives or whatever, due to the fact that we took our foot off the pedal.

‘ To attempt and perform at the greatest level can be challenging when you are playing teams that are, perhaps, not as strong, and after that, possibly we had the incorrect mindset. I believe that we tried to go out and be the very best we could be, however perhaps neglected how hard the task was, and it was very hard. We weren’t prepared for it.

‘ Hopefully – I have not been talking with the girls that much, but ideally, people aren’t deflated by that defeat and we return strong and understand where we went wrong. Hopefully, we will be able to correct those errors that we made during the championship and put it right.’

From an individual point-of-view, 2020 was a rewarding year for Sarah-Jane Winders, who was well worth her Gamers’ Gamer of the Year gong. Moving into 2021, the Baltinglass back will hope to use the award as a springboard towards a more effective campaign, including redemption in the All-Ireland Junior champion to come later this year.