Richie Towell bagged a hat-trick as Dundalk secured European football for next season with a 3-0 win over Derry City at Oriel Park.

The result ensures the Louth club men a top three finish, the first time they have achieved such a feat since they last won the league title in 1995.

Hopes of recreating that title success of 18 years ago are still a long shot but this win moves the Lilywhites three points behind league leaders St Patrick's Athletic, albeit with a game extra played.

Derry City arrived hoping to cement their spot in fourth place and they had a great chance to take the lead after just six minutes when former Dundalk star Michael Rafter collected a loose ball to break clear into the penalty area.

He knocked the ball past Peter Cherrie before hitting the deck but, instead of awarding a penalty, referee Graham Kelly adjudged the Tipperary man to have taken a dive, issuing a yellow card to the stunned Derry City striker.

Both defences looked far from assured and a slip by Derry City centre-back Dean Jarvis gave Patrick Hoban space for a pop at goal midway through the half. The former Mervue United man did well initially to spin away from Jarvis but his fierce effort lacked direction and flew high and wide of the target.

The Dundalk breakthrough came in the 26th minute. Kurtis Byrne chested the ball into the path of Richie Towell and his half volley into the ground beat Ger Doherty to find the Derry net.

The visitors found themselves two goals down before they had even had time to regroup as Towell claimed a second in as many minutes.

A great move involving Hoban and Dillon ended with the ball out on the right with Meenan. It looked like his cross was too deep to cause any problems but Dane Massey arrived on the scene to stoop down and head the ball back for Towell to smash home with a fine half-volley from 25-yards.

Dundalk coasted through the second-half and Kenny was able to wrap Patrick Hoban and Mark Rossiter in cotton wool ahead of Sunday's FAI Cup semi-final derby date with Drogheda United.

Both goalkeepers were redundant for much of the second period but City's Ger Doherty had to pick the ball out of his net again in the 66th minute after Towell had completed his hat-trick by placing the ball around the keeper after being set free by Kurtis Byrne.

Dundalk: Cherrie; Rossiter (Rossiter 69), Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Dillon, Shields, Towell (Mountney 90), Meenan; Byrne, Hoban (Faherty 63).

Derry City: Doherty; Madden, S McEleney, Jarvis, Osborne (Kavanagh 59); P McEleney, Molloy, Higgins, McNamee; Rafter, Patterson.

Referee: Graham Kelly (Cork).