Five minutes before half-time, Alan Mathews’ team, who had won eight from eight before their trip to Ballybofey, hit the front. A well-practiced diagonal ball from Gareth Matthews set Philip Hughes free down the right and his centre was steered home competently by the inrushing Conan Byrne.
Then, 12 minutes from time, Hughes found enough space on the edge of the penalty area to curl a fine second into the top corner and ensure the points would be making the journey back to Dumcondra. A third duly arrived on 84 minutes from David Cassidy when he tucked home a rebound from inside the six-yard box following Ciaran Gallagher’s save from Hughes.
With John Paul Gallagher and player-manager Peter Hutton making their debuts for Harps the complexion of the back four was altered as the new regime continues to shape. But whatever about the defensive side of things, with only 14 goals from 17 outings in the league, Harps’ prospects were always going to be decreased with nine-goal Kevin McHugh suspended.
Stephen O’Donnell spearheaded the hosts’ attack but when he was forced off following a knock just after the half-hour, Blaine Curtis was forced to play the lonesome sole striker role. And although the home team initially played patches of attractive football, the league leaders were more incisive and not afraid to go long when the need arose with Byrne and Hughes providing a cutting edge, backed up by excellent showings from Cassidy and Brendan McGill.
On nine minutes, the first real opening of the game arrived following an enterprising break from Shelbourne left-back Lorcan Fitzgerald. His pass found Hughes, who swivelled to work an angle but was thwarted by goalkeeper Gallagher, who wore the captain’s armband in McHugh and Packie Mailey’s absence.
Harps fashioned a chance when Aaron McElwee squared to O’Donnell on the edge of the area and the former Kildrum Tiger tested Dean Delany with a rasping shot. And while the Shels goalkeeper tipped the effort away for a corner, the main cause for disappointment from the home support was the injury sustained to O’Donnell, who was involved in a committed challenge with Matthews moments beforehand, which meant it was his last action.
Gary Merritt was sprung from the bench and was involved immediately; crossing from the right and Ciaran Coll came round at the back post and could only hook a decent opportunity over the crossbar.
In the second half, Hughes tested Gallagher once again, this time from a free-kick and although a lot of the play was contested in the middle third, it was Shelbourne who were dangerous on the break as Harps and David McGill and David Cassidy combined to bring another save from the Harps netminder.
As things wound down, the teams reverted to their contemporary states - the spring grew in Shelbourne’s step, while an increasingly shapeless Harps were simply demoralised.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; Martin Redmond, Peter Hutton, Keith Cowan, John Paul Gallagher; Mark Forker, Thomas Bonner, Aaron McElwee, Ciaran Coll; Stephen O'Donnell (Gary Merritt 17), Blaine Curtis.
Shelbourne: Dean Delany; Gareth Mathews, Andrew Boyle, Ian Ryan, Lorcan Fitzgerald; Brendan McGill (Sean Byrne 74), Colm James (Kevin Dawson 82), David McGill, David Cassidy (John Sullivan 85); Conan Byrne, Philip Hughes.
Referee: Derek Tomney.