Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Kuale-O'Shea reunion should bring the pain to rival runners

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Ejiro Kuale has a daunting task in front of him this summer.

As the proposed replacement at middle linebacker for fan favourite and 2013 team MVP Henoc Muamba (who signed in the NFL over the winter), Kuale's got considerable shoes to fill.

But he's already won the most important fan of all over to his side -- Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea.

O'Shea coached Kuale when the two men were in Toronto together and O'Shea says he loves what he's seen so far out of the reunion in Winnipeg.

"He's in great shape and he's a tough customer," O'Shea said of Kuale.

"He loves being a part of a team so he's going to buy into what we're doing. And he loves special teams, so he's going to go out there and when you're running down a kickoff, you're going to know where E.J. Kuale is. And when you're running a return you're going to know where E.J. Kuale is.

"Because there's always a chance he's going to catch you. And when he does, it's not going to feel too good."

Kuale was a late spring pickup for the Bombers after he was cut by the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who in turn acquired him last season after he was released last year by the Montreal Alouettes.

That's a lot of bouncing around and Kuale, who returned from an ankle injury, was asked if all that rejection is an extra motivator for him with what is now his third team in barely a year.

"Mike O'Shea's a good head coach and I think everything worked out good in the end. Who cares about who gave up on me. I got a job now and it's with an organization that wants me to be here," said Kuale.

"But the only thing I have left to prove is to myself. And that's to be an all-star -- not for the fans, not for the league, it's for myself. And once I achieve that goal, maybe then it will be time."

-- -- --

O'Shea had an interesting vantage point on the whole CFL labour dispute.

As a head coach, O'Shea's interests are clearly aligned with the owners. But he was also a CFLPA representative while he was a player and he was asked if that gave him a better understanding of the players' perspective.

"Possibly," O'Shea grinned.

With the players voting Canada-wide Thursday to ratify the new deal, O'Shea was asked if he was relieved that the distraction was over.

"It's not been a distraction whatsoever for me," O'Shea insisted.

-- -- --

O'Shea was all business in his availability with reporters on Thursday, issuing little more than clipped answers and batting away all comers hoping for something to work with.

But O'Shea did have one decent line when asked how he intends to use his kickers Saturday in Calgary during the Bombers final pre-season game.

"For converts," he said.

Pressed to expand, O'Shea said he will use all three kickers -- import Brett Maher, non-import Lirim Hajrullahu and veteran non-import punter Mike Renaud, who returned to practice Thursday after missing the past week with an injury. "They're all going to go. It's turned out to be a pretty good battle," said O'Shea. "It's going to be an interesting discussion after the game."

Renaud missed Monday's pre-season contest but Maher and Hajrullahu both played and were impressive. Maher had the longer field goal and slightly better punting average in a 24-22 loss to the Toronto Argonauts, but he's also got an American passport against Hajrullahu's Canadian citizenship.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2014 C3

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