Bombers’ Mike O’Shea shocked by cancellation of 2020 CFL season

Screenshot courtesy: Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Mike O’Shea has been around the CFL for almost 30 years.

Over that time he’s seen just about everything the league has had to endure — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Or so he thought.

“I was completely blindsided, which sounds very odd to say because you go through an off-season where you’re paying attention and listening, but we really thought we had it nailed,” said O’Shea.

The head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers spoke to the media at Investors Group Field on Wednesday to discuss the cancellation of the 2020 CFL season. He believed that the league’s return-to-play plan, centered around a ‘bubble’ concept in Winnipeg, would allow players to hit the field this year.

“It was really easy to be positive. Even though I knew that not having a season was a possibility — and I knew there were some indicators from the federal government — the announcement came and it was like I was completely blindsided,” said O’Shea.

The 49-year-old O’Shea is a proud native of North Bay, Ont. whose passion for the CFL is virtually unparalleled. Needless to say, the cancellation of the upcoming season was a difficult reality to accept.

“When I found out for sure that it was cancelled, it was extremely sad — one of the saddest days I’ve had in a long, long time. Like everybody else, you move forward as quickly as possible and get on board towards working on a plan for 2021,” said O’Shea.

The Blue Bombers won the 107th Grey Cup last November in a one-sided contest against Hamilton. The Tiger-Cats were favoured coming into the game, but dominant performances from Andrew Harris and Willie Jefferson launched Winnipeg to a 33-12 victory.

The team retained a number of key contributors this past winter, signing contract extensions with Jefferson, Zach Collaros, Darvin Adams, Michael Couture, Stanley Bryant, Jake Thomas, and Mercy Maston. Fans in Winnipeg had to wait 29 years for the team’s most recent championship, but many were already discussing the possibility of capturing back-to-back titles.

“You only get so many opportunities,” said O’Shea. “And I believe 2020 would have presented a great opportunity to be Grey Cup champions.”

Though it remains unclear exactly how the off-season will proceed, the league and the CFL Players’ Association came to a few agreements on Wednesday. More than 400 players will be eligible to collect the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), while those on expiring contracts can opt-out to become free agents. Players who do not opt-out will retain their medical coverage until training camp next year.

“We’ll be challenged with a new set of tasks very shortly when the CFL and the (CFLPA) come together and get some answers,” said O’Shea. “Those will come back to us and we’ll have to sort it out and figure it out on a team level. In very short order, we’ll be busting our hump again to make it work.”

Always an optimist, O’Shea doesn’t believe a cancelled season will spell the end of the CFL.

“I’ve been around the league long enough, and as I said to the players, I’ve seen a lot of obstacles be put in front of us, and I’ve always seen us manage to bust through them,” said O’Shea.

“Although this is an obstacle we’ve never seen, I believe the outcome will be the same. We’ll figure out solutions and get around these things or through them and we’ll be playing in 2021. Nothing is guaranteed in life, it’s what you make of it.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.