Steven Bradley inspired Dundalk to a return to winning ways with this comfortable win over Finn Harps and ensure there is life yet in the title race with a third of the season remaining.

The Scottish youngster had begun the campaign in style, hitting four goals in three games. However, he hadn't found the net since before a stunning strike rounded off the scoring at Oriel Park.

Goals inside the opening six minutes from Darragh Leahy and Greg Sloggett had Dundalk in control and they cruised through the remainder of a game in which the stuffing was well and truly knocked out of Harps early on.

Less than an hour before kick-off, Dundalk confirmed that Mark Connolly, last month’s SWAI/SSE Airtricity Player of the Month, had been recalled from his loan spell by parent club Dundee United.

The centre back’s future had been the subject of much discussion in recent weeks with boss Stephen O’Donnell stating only that talks were ongoing between the Oriel Park outfit and the Scottish Premiership side.

Many had expected the experienced defender to leave the club last month given his loan period was only ever supposed to run until the summer. While Dundalk had hoped to extend that, no progress was made on the front and Connolly is a significant loss as the Lilywhites attempt to reel in Shamrock Rovers.

With Brian Gartland unavailable, Sam Bone started at centre back against Harps. Bradley and Paul Doyle were recalled, but Robbie Benson was sidelined with a knock.

Ollie Horgan handed a first start to new signing Luke McGing. The Aussie defender was appearing in Australia's A-League, and the Asian Champions League no less, for Sydney FC as recently as May.

Harp have had a particularly active summer window as Horgan bids to avoid the drop and retain Premier Division status for a fifth straight season. Scottish striker Robert Jones – their goalscorer against Derry last time out - joined McGing in the starting line-up.

Darrgh Leahy

Leahy opened the scoring for Dundalk inside three minutes. Such was Dundalk’s fast start, the left back had a chance to score the lead even before that. First, Ward slipped him in and he almost deceived Mark McGinley with a low near post effort.

A corner followed and after Steven Bradley’s shot was blocked, Leahy was well positioned to lash in from 10 yards out.

Dundalk’s second was well worked. Patrick Hoban dropped deep and turned the ball around the corner for Greg Sloggett to run onto. He burst into the box and pulled back towards Ward who swept into an unguarded net.

Harps, to their credit, grew into the games somewhat and had a period of sustained pressure on the hosts goal. They forced a number of corners and Ryan Rainey eventually forced Peter Cherrie to spring to his right to save. Lewis Macari cleared the loose ball.

The game was all but over as a contest by half time. Nine minutes before the break, Steven Bradley supplied the match’s most memorable moment. He picked up the ball on the right and teased Barry McNamee and Regan Donelon before darting inside and finding the far top corner with a perfectly executed curler that left McGinley flailing.

The visitors were improved at the start of the second half. As they did in the first, they forced a number of set plays in dangerous areas. Conor Tourish’s firm header almost took advantage of one but Cherrie repelled his effort.

Ward was denied a second by the woodwork and Hoban made a mess of a perfect delivery from Bradley as Dundalk laboured to no avail to add to their three-goal tally.

Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; Lewis Macari (John Mountney, 76), Sam Bone, Andy Boyle, Darragh Leahy; Paul Doyle; Steven Bradley (David McMillan, 85), Greg Sloggett, Keith Ward (Joe Adams, 67), Daniel Kelly (Ryan O’Kane, 67); Patrick Hoban (John Martin, 76).

Finn Harps: Mark McGinley; Conor Tourish, Liam McGing, Rob Slevin; Ethan Boyle, Ryan Connolly, Ryan Rainey (Harry Nicolson, 66), Barry McNamee (Mark Timlin, 66), Regan Donelon (Dylan Duncan, 74); Filip Mihaljevic; Robert Jones (Jose Carillo, 83).

Referee: Adriano Reale