Waterford issued a warning to their First Division play-off rivals after a display of Premier Division quality in Garryowen saw them overcome Treaty United in a wild affair.
Phoenix Patterson will grab the headlines after another scintillating display that's sure to have him on a number of Christmas lists, but this team as a collective appear the real deal.
In a way, this felt like a foregone conclusion before a ball was kicked – or so the season-long narratives would suggest.
Twenty points separated the sides, as did 42 goals in the goal difference column. Tommy Barrett will always be quick to remind you that Treaty United are effectively an amateur setup, while Waterford's backing is no secret.
Last week’s FAI Cup semi-finals also gave good insight. Waterford and Shelbourne felt like a toss-up despite the divisional disparity, while Treaty and Derry City was a David-versus-Goliath-type clash.
And yet, for all that form and logic can suggest, this play-off system has always been a leveller for sides.
That narrative held-up for all of five minutes.
The key difference between Treaty United and their full-time counterparts isn’t their football IQ – Jack Lynch probably outshines most in that regard – it’s the physical elements: pace and power.
And speaking of difference-makers: Phoenix Patterson.
Consistently hailed as the best player in the First Division by fairly much every manager in the competition, Patterson showed both pace and power to finish at a very tight angle past Jack Brady.
Yassine En-Neyah held the ball up beautifully before slipping a slide pass into the left-hand channel for the talisman to run on to. He took a heavy touch but he was still quick enough to get there before any red shirts and fire into the far corner.
In fairness to Patterson, he waited over 20 minutes to net his next, En-Neyah again central, this time teeing up Junior Quitirna who squared to Patterson to double his tally.
His 17 league goals this season were an indication of his quality in the second tier coming into this tie, but by the half-hour mark, everyone in attendance knew he’d be playing at a higher level next year – one way or the other.
Waterford could have put the tie to bed before half-time when Damien McGrath awarded them a penalty, but Quitirna hit the post after his stuttered run-up.
And in classic play-off fashion, Treaty went and scored their own spot-kick on the hour mark through Enda Curran to rescue this tie from the jaws of formality.
Colin Conroy was sent on by Barrett to provide a link to Curran in midfield but his night lasted just 17 minutes, being issued his marching orders with twenty minutes remaining.
Two minutes later, that two-goal lead was restored and the tie was put to bed courtesy of Junior Quitirna.
With the last kick of the game, an own goal emphasised how unfulfilling a night it was for the hosts who had a big crowd in.
It remains to be seen if Waterford will be playing at a higher level next year, but if Phoenix Patterson isn’t, it should be considered a crime against the sport.
The teams meet in the second leg at the RSC on Saturday.
Treaty United: Jack Brady; Ben O’Riordan (Colin Conroy, 51), Callum McNamara, Sean Guerins, Marc Ludden; Jack Lynch, Lee Devitt, Mark Walsh; Willie Armshaw (Success Edogun, 75), Enda Curran (Fionn Doherty, 85), Stephen Christopher (Matt Keane, 75).
Waterford: Paul Martin; Tunmise Sobowale (Oluwatimilentin Sobowale, 75), Killian Cantwell, Alex Baptiste (Richard Taylor, 46), Darragh Power; Niall O’Keefe, Yassine En-Neyah, Shane Griffin; Junior Quitirna, Wassim Aouachria (Raul Uche, 75), Phoenix Patterson.
Referee: Damien McGrath.
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