Aspiring athletes have long heard stories about the remarkable career of North Bay football legend Mike O'Shea and now they will toil on the field bearing his name as they aspire to achieve even some of the same hard-earned and humble success.
O'Shea credited his many loved ones in attendance as crucial to his success, saying the field had not just been given his own name but that of his family. He told the home field crowd his late father "would be very pleased but it would make him feel slightly uncomfortable," by the field renaming. "He really thought that putting in a hard day's work was enough.
"I'm a little embarrassed myself, honestly, certainly contentedly pleased. I'm very honoured. Being able to work hard in a game and a league that I cherish, that's certainly, to me, reward enough."
The sign is up at the Steve Omischl Sports Complex and Mike O'Shea Field — in the works for years and delayed by the pandemic — is finally a reality, an homage to the accomplishments of the homegrown hero.
"I do appreciate all your support, not just today but throughout the years," O'Shea told the crowd gathered on a warm Saturday afternoon. "I'd also like to thank all the hardworking people of North Bay who set such a shining example to me from growing up. You're fantastic. We live in a wonderful city and we should be thankful for that."
O'Shea, a former star linebacker for Widdifield and the University of Guelph went on to win three Grey Cups as a player with the Toronto Argonauts (1996, 1997, 2004) and another as the Argos' special teams coordinator in 2012. O'Shea, the reigning CFL Coach of the Year is the head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who he led to Grey Cup wins in 2019 and 2021, for a career total of six (and counting). O'Shea's Bombers lead their division again this season.
Altogether, O’Shea played in the CFL for 16 seasons over two stints each with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Argos and was named the CFL's Rookie of the Year in 1993 and the CFL's Most Outstanding Canadian in 1999.
O'Shea is also a member of the North Bay Sports Hall of Fame and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
"The City of North Bay has provided a tremendous place where kids can come and have fun and dream, like we did, at Widdifield. We had big dreams about what we were going to do later in life," O'Shea said. "It's a great space for parents to support and cheer their families and it's a great space for coaches to teach not only how to tackle and catch but also the life lessons that team sports provide our youth."
Mayor Al McDonald congratulated O'Shea for his outstanding playing and continuing coaching career and thanked him for always acting as an ambassador for North Bay in his personal and professional dealings.
In February 2020, former councillor Marcus Tignanelli brought forward the motion to honour O'Shea.
"I always hear that you can’t be successful from North Bay. You’ve got to move down south to be successful. We’ve seen other athletes do that. Mike O’Shea didn’t do that. He rode out high school in North Bay and proved you can be successful straight from North Bay. And I think that is really the story,” said Tignanelli then.
"To drive up here and see this facility, it's phenomenal," said O'Shea. "We loved what we played on — there might have been a few potholes on the field next to the cemetery but it was good enough and this is spectacular. I can't wait to read all the stories about the kids and their dreams as they progress through, knowing that they came from a field in North Bay just like I did."
When Tignanelli called O'Shea to tell him about the renaming of the turf football field at the Lakeshore Drive complex, he said the North Bay sporting great deflected the praise.
“In talking to Mike, he said he wasn’t so sure he was deserving of the award, " said Tignanelli. "It was a very odd phone call because he was so humble, he said, ‘Oh no, not me.' He is so very deserving to have a football field named after him."