Coronavirus: Another trip to Croke Park – but this time it’s not a game

I’ve been to Croker a million times, but going there for a Covid-19 test, I got totally lost

Security men direct people with appointments to the drive-through testing centre for Covid-19 at Croke Park. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Security men direct people with appointments to the drive-through testing centre for Covid-19 at Croke Park. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

 

The first thing to say about my Covid-19 test at Croke Park is that I got lost on my way there. Yes indeed, of all the gobshites in all the world to get sent for a Covid-19 test at GAA headquarters, it would have to be the one who spends half his working life traipsing in and out of the stadium who’d end up having to ask for directions.

I write about Gaelic games. I have had a cough for just over a week. After getting onto my GP, I was sent for a test in Croke Park, a place I go to maybe 25 to 30 times in a normal year.

You don’t need to tell me anything about Croke Park. Except, well, you do. A couple of times, in fact. Hence, when I turned off Clonliffe Road too early, I was sent back around to the far corner of the Cusack Stand.

I was met by stewards with clipboards, had my name and details confirmed and drove on in to join the queue

This, of course, had all been clearly spelled out in the HSE text I had received. They even said to go to Gate A18. I did not, it’s fair to say, spend a lot of time acquainting myself with where Gate A18 might be. Much like Covid-19, there is as yet no vaccine for the hubris of a man who thinks he knows where he’s going.

Stewards

Once I found Gate A18, I was met by stewards with clipboards, had my name and details confirmed and drove on in to join the queue. Seven cars were ahead of me; one followed behind me.

Another steward came to the passenger-side window, handed me a pack and told me I’d be going to Bay 8. He told me to keep my window up until asked to lower it.

The pack held two face masks, HSE information sheets, and a thick black binbag. I was told to put on one of the masks and wait to be called. I would be given a packet of tissues once inside. When the whole thing was finished, used tissues and facemasks were to be put into the black bag and binned at home.

Eilish came over with the swab and apologised in advance for what she was about to do

Everyone was lovely and helpful. Yet there was no escaping the slightly dystopian vibe. Everybody wore a face mask. Nobody chatted. I’ve been to Croke Park a thousand times. This is the first time I’ve gone through it without hearing anyone crack a joke.

Driving into the tunnel under the Cusack Stand was surreal. On big Croke Park days, this is where reporters go to be ignored/lied to/barely tolerated by the teams from the first game. Brian Cody’s occasional death stare probably won’t feel quite so imposing the next time.

Packet of tissues

I stopped at Bay 8. Each bay had two staff; one took details, one did the test. Muireann asked me to roll down the window and give my particulars, handed me the packet of tissues and asked me to blow my nose. Eilish came over with the swab and apologised in advance for what she was about to do.

The test took about eight seconds. Down the throat first, then up the nose. Not overly pleasant, but I only had to do it once. Eilish and the rest of them are doing it every 15 minutes from eight in the morning until eight at night. That’s around 430 tests a day and a shade over 3,000 a week. I was the one who needed to be apologising to her.

Then the window went back up and Eilish and Muireann disposed of their gloves and started scrubbing their hands for the millionth time. When all nine bays were done, they raised their hands to co-ordinate the mini-convoy’s departure. Each masked nurse gave a little wave to send you on your way.

There are no games right now, but there will be, hopefully in a few short months. When they happen, I’ll be back in Croke Park reporting on them. After this, I’ll be a bit more choosy about who I describe as heroes.

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