Drogheda United will take a one goal advantage into the second leg of the play-off in Finn Park on Friday night after Chris Lyons injury time strike.
It was the visitors who had the first chance of the game with a ball being cut back from the left after a long ball from a free kick but the Harps captain fired over the bar.
Harps had a number of set pieces without creating a chance before Drogheda had their first effort on target after thirteen minutes.
Mark Hughes won the ball back off a Harps midfielder on the right before playing in Wixted on the wing. Wixted crossed for Lyons but his header was straight at keeper McGinley.
Lyons was again denied by McGinley five minutes later as he recovered the second ball from a corner, beat his man and saw a right footed strike saved by the strong hand of McGinley.
It looked like Harps were going to take the lead on twenty-six minutes as the ball was cut back to the unmarked Boyle who fired over the bar from inside the six yard box. The linesman had however, already raised his flag for offside anyway.
Drogheda had the next chance as McNally headed over from a corner before McGinley again showed his excellent positioning, getting to a Doyle cross ahead of forward Lyons.
It was Harps who almost took the lead at the break though as Ruairi Harkin’s cross from the right turned into a shot which bounced back off the far post before Drogheda cleared for a corner.
Quick thinking from Sean Brennan saw the first clear chance of the second half as he looked to catch out McGinley with a quick free but struck just wide of the near post.
Harps manager Ollie Horgan was then sent to the stand by referee Rob Hennessey on the hour mark in bizarre circumstances after showing his disagreement at the decision not to allow Harry Ascroft back onto the pitch after he had changed his ripped shorts until a Drogheda free was taken.
It would take another twelve minutes for the next chance of the game. Harps failed to fully clear a free allowing Drogheda captain Kane to cross towards the back post.
The ball fell to McNally who saw his shot blocked and in a crowded box, the ball somehow rolled into the path of Meaney who fired over from ten yards under pressure from a Harps player.
Drogheda were creating more opportunities and Doyle and Kane linked up on the counter three minutes later but again McGinley’s positioning was spot on as he beat Doyle to the return ball to collect for Harps.
In the final minute of normal time, a Chris Lyons strike from the edge of the box seemed to bounce in off the crossbar but a free was awarded to Harps for a handball by Lyons in the build-up.
Harps almost snatched it in the second of a minimum of four added minutes when Cowan flicked on a throw in to substitute Mikey Place but he headed wide at the near post.
It was Drogheda who would find the goal to give the advantage in the second leg as Heeney found Meaney, who found Lyons with a neat backheel and the forward fired past McGinley to net his fifteenth goal of the season for the Boynesiders.
Harps almost snatched what would have been the most dramatic of equalisers after a long ball found substitute Raf Cretaro, who jinked his way past a defender before striking the upright from eight yards out.
That would be the final chance of the game, with Drogheda now taking a one goal advantage to the second leg in Ballybofey on Friday.
Drogheda United: Luca Gratzer; James Brown, Luke McNally, Conor Kane (C); Mark Hughes, Luke Heeney, Sean Brennan (Jamie Hollywood 78’); Adam Wixted (Stephen Meaney 69’), Mark Doyle, Chris Lyons.
Unused Subs: Paul Skinner (GK), Cian Kavanagh, Eoin McPhillips, James Clarke, Ryan O’Shea.
Finn Harps: Mark McGinley; Jacob Borg, Harry Ascroft, Keith Cowan (C), Sam Todd; Ruairi Harkin (Dan O’Reilly 78’), Gareth Harkin, Tony McNamee, Mark Coyle (Raf Cretaro 73’), Mark Russell; Nathan Boyle (Mikey Place 89’).
Unused Subs: Jamie Bell (GK), Stephen Doherty, Niall Logue, Colm Deasy.
Referee: Rob Hennessey.
Attendance: 1400 (est).
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Chris Lyons (Drogheda United).