'It is kind of surreal, sometimes you think you are dreaming. Then you realise it’s real life'

Galway star and medical professional Tracey Leonard is on the frontline in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Galway star Tracey Leonard works as a nurse, and is now a Covid-19 tester.
Galway star Tracey Leonard works as a nurse, and is now a Covid-19 tester.

AT THE HEART of the fight against the Covid-19 outbreak have been the medical professionals in our hospitals and surgeries. In the very front line is Galway star Tracey Leonard.

An outpatient nurse in normal times, the Corofin native has been seconded into a role as a tester in UCHG’s drive-through coronavirus clinic, as dreams of winning a first national senior medal with the Galway ladies footballers have been filed away on some future bucket list.

Leaders of the Lidl National Football League Division 1 as it stands, Galway – who finished runners-up in both national competitions in 2019 – and Leonard are in the abyss with all sports teams, with no collective training permitted, while they also have no idea when football will resume in 2020.

But 28-year-old Leonard has more important challenges ahead. For now, she is mostly testing her fellow healthcare professionals to ensure they are fit and healthy to serve the public, but they are all expecting a significant spike in their workloads in the coming weeks.

“Our clinic is next door to the infectious diseases department, so we’ve been moved over to do testing for Covid-19,” said Leonard, who captained Galway to the TG4 All-Ireland final last year.

“They have set up a drive through clinic. So far we are testing mainly staff, but in the next week I’m sure we’ll be seeing the general public. It’s different work, but it’s great to be able to help out.

“For now my hours are still regular and I’m still on day shift but that could change any day if things escalate. I might end up on evenings or night, but for now all is the same.

There is a sense of worry around, but from a healthcare point of view you can only control so much. The hospital is pretty calm at the minute but a lot of people are expecting a spike in the next week or ten days. In the meantime, we are going from day to day, doing what we can to prepare ourselves.

Being so close to patients who are possible carriers of the disease could make for a scary working environment, but Leonard says she is not frightened by the challenge.

“We are well kitted out with our protective gear. Hand washing is a key thing in our line of work anyway – it’s nothing new to us. I know I am that bit younger too, so my immunity should be a bit stronger – I’m sure football has helped me with that – so the job doesn’t worry me.

“My only concern at the start was if I had anyone elderly or sick at home, but thank God they are all pretty healthy. I still live at home and my parents were totally supportive. Their outlook is the same as mine. In the profession I’m in I can help out and I can enable other health care professionals with the screening and to make sure they are okay to work. There is a real job satisfaction in that.

Tracey Leonard 1 On the ball in last year's championship.

“I am on the other side of it carrying out the test, but we can imagine how nerve wracking it must be for the people being tested and then for a day or two when you’re waiting for results to come back. All the medical staff want to get back to work and play their part. It’ll be all hands on deck for the next few weeks to see which way this goes.”

A ban on collective training has stalled every team’s progress, but the talented Corofin attacker has been keeping her fitness levels topped up with a few runs in the evenings. She admits that she hasn’t looked at a football in about ten days though.

The one positive from the Covid-19 outbreak has been the time afforded to families to spend together, and she says seeing more of her parents and brother Jason – a recent triple All-Ireland winner with Corofin – has helped.

It is kind of surreal, sometimes you think you are dreaming. Then you realise it’s real life. But football has been put on the back burner with everything that’s going on.

“But sometimes these things in life could be good for us. It gives us all some time to get to know our siblings a bit better. Myself and Jason are rarely ever at home together: he’s gone away playing evenings I’m at home and vice versa.

“Sometimes things work out for the better; there are positives from everything. We’ll spend more time together as a family than usual and that is good. Our lives had gotten so busy and we didn’t have time to do that. Now you can’t go anywhere so you have time to be with your family.”

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Tim Rabbitt’s Galway squad will be back together training on the pitch as soon as the blanket ban is lifted, but at the moment all they can do is encourage each other from a distance.

While Leonard has swapped her maroon shirt for her personal protective equipment kit, many of her teammates are off work, while some have even lost their jobs as business nosedives. They’re still there for each other though, she says.

A lot of the group have been affected. We have a good few teachers who are out, and then girls who are off too. It is worrying for girls who aren’t working and don’t know when they are going to go back to work. But it’s a waiting game now.

“We are a very supportive and tight group, and it is times like this that you do realise that you will build it stronger when we get back. When football does get back up and running we’ll all realise how great it is to be able to go training of an evening.

“You’d miss the banter over and back with the girls, but there are things more important at the minute that need to be solved.”

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