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Bombers without borders

O'Shea has no limits for team's success

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Maybe Mike O'Shea has read and heard some of it. Maybe he hasn't. But it doesn't matter whether one newspaper thinks his team is heading to the Grey Cup or one radio station thinks they're a mirage. Not to him.

"My focus has been first to get the guys to experience winning and secondly to get them to want to win for one another," said the Blue Bombers head coach, during a conversation early Monday morning. "Winning will help convince, not only the fans who are obviously very important, not just to Winnipeg but to the league, but it will help convince players too. That's the biggest concern. Getting buy in from the players and having them really believe in what we're doing. Success, individual success but more importantly winning as a team, is paramount."

O'Shea's job isn't to convince media his team is for real. His job is to win games. At 4-1 heading into this week's tussle with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats that's exactly what he's done. While there have been some holdouts, yours included, on the transformation of this team from doormat to contender, O'Shea isn't paying attention.

In fact, he's more concerned with the positive press creating an air of satisfaction within the four walls of his locker room.

'A long time ago I learned not to put ceilings on my play and what I could accomplish'

-- Bombers coach Mike O'Shea

"Absolutely," said O'Shea, when asked if there's a danger associated with early success his team has had and the attention now being directed at the Bombers. "It's media based, I would say. I believe with the type of players and the coaching staff and the leadership we have, we'll be fine. When you add up the articles that are available and all the mass media, there are so many articles available today, you can get inundated. We just need to stay focused inside the stadium, on what we've got going on and not pay attention to all that other stuff. I don't talk about it with the players, really."

While 4-1 is a fine start, teams are eventually judged by their finish. O'Shea, a three-time Grey Cup champion as a player, either understands this genetically or had it stamped on his soul as a child. Yes, Mike O'Shea wants to win every game but he distinguishes between early season victories and those of the playoff variety.

So if someone says to him, 'Well, this is the first year of a rebuild and getting eight or nine wins is a good start and we can worry about the playoffs and championships down the road,' O'Shea is either going to glaze over and tune out or get irritated.

"I've never thought about a ceiling for this team. A long time ago I learned not to put ceilings on my play and what I could accomplish. Players sometimes do that and say something like, 'wow, it would be great if I could play five years,' and then five years come and go," said O'Shea, who played 16 years in the CFL before moving into coaching. "I think you have to stay away from putting an upper limit on what you're doing. Football or otherwise."

Every team is flawed, these Blue Bombers included. This space has been critical of the Bombers offensive line and its Canadian talent. O'Shea sees the game up close each week and pores over the film afterward. He knows what his team does well and where it's lacking. But his vision is about moving forward and focusing on each week. The big picture is for GM Kyle Walters to work on.

"I've been pretty consistent in my approach and I know it's a cliche but we're trying to worry about one game at a time. That's what allows us to worry about A loss and not have it compound. It also allows us to worry about getting A win. It allows us to quickly shift our focus from one game to the next. Maybe some coaches would consider this short-sighted. But we're going to stick with what we're doing," said O'Shea. "Every week there's lots of footage in the game film which allows us to coach and try to be corrective. If we continue to improve every week, we'll get to where we want to be."

O'Shea is asked what he loves about his team: "The people. The characters here. In the end it's game that is played and coached by people," he responds.

And then he's asked what he doesn't like: "Right now, nothing. What's not to like? It's going well and even in the week that it didn't go so well, you just don't throw your hands up and abandon it and throw it all and say this is terrible. There were areas we needed to improve on after that particular game," came his answer.

In the end, those two answers boil down to what is the O'Shea Factor. He understands not just the CFL game but the inner dynamics of a professional team and he works every day to build and protect his team.

It may be about Mike O'Shea to many of us right now. But that's not what this early success is about to the coach. To him, it's about everyone. From the players to the coaches to the people pushing tickets to the guy taping ankles to the folks selling hats. He wants to help them all get better and achieve success.

O'Shea doesn't want headlines with his name in them. He wants to do his part in building a winning organization. It's leadership. Leadership this organization has been missing for some time.

And that, will lead to wins. Big wins. Playoff wins.

Eventually, championship wins. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 29, 2014 D1


Updated on Tuesday, July 29, 2014 at 9:29 AM CDT: Corrects typo

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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