In 2004 they were defeated at the quarter-final stage by Mayo while in 2006 a build-up of injuries and a loss of form saw them exit the qualifiers at the second round at the hands of Laois.
Harte admitted: “It’s very difficult to retain the title as we all know. The only way you can achieve it is to be the champions, but it’s not easy to be the champions. So, therefore that knocks us back to square one. If we ever want to achieve that, then we have a long, long road to go.’’
Yet he was philosophical, pointing out that Tyrone football had experienced bigger upsets in the recent past – alluding to the death of young minor Paul McGirr as well as Cormac McAnallen – and had come through them.
“Life is like that. But we in Tyrone know that life has given us worse knocks than losing semi-finals and we have dealt with that. So we will deal with this too. We will be hurt, we will be annoyed and we will have many regrets. But, they are only sporting regrets. Ultimately in the real scheme of things they will not be that crucial.’’
Certain that Daniel Goulding’s seventh minute goal had a major bearing on the outcome – and that as big a blow as it had been to have to replace Sean Cavanagh, the Tyrone boss attributed his team’s defeat almost entirely to the effectiveness of Cork’s play.
“I suppose now they have put that bit of consistency with that quality and they are in an All-Ireland final on merit. And I’m sure nobody is looking forward to meeting them. Some days you meet teams that are better than you and we certainly did that today. The crucial score was the goal. Even though Cork were hungry for the game and looking sharp, if we hadn’t conceded the goal there was every chance we could have kept in touch. That made it difficult for us. Then they had that cushion and continued to play good football and cope well with losing their man. I can’t fault our players for their effort – they played everything they knew.”
Having to replace Cavanagh was upsetting, but Harte didn’t want to take away anything from the Cork showing.
“You can’t point to any single thing and say ‘that was what beat us today.’ I think it was the collective effort of Cork beat us – their quality and their desire. We haven’t met that in a long time and we met it today.
“It’s easy to make these judgements and say we are not good enough and say we played under par, not to our usual standard. But that often has a lot to do with the opposition,’’ he added.
Harte said that while he never gave up hope of his team recovering, they failed to reduce the margin to more manageable level in the second half by getting a goal. “I suppose Sean Cavanagh’s effort near the end was the nearest we got to having a goal chance and if it had gone in there still wasn’t much time there. But, it would have been down to two points at that stage – and it would have been a very interesting last two or three minutes.’’