TRURO – Personally, it was just the season Justin Palardy had hoped for.
Team wise, it was anything but.
The 24-year-old Murray Siding native equalled his career best 86.7 per cent field goal percentage, earning him the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' special teams player of the year honour and convincing the CFL squad to pick up the option on his contract for another season.
But his team struggled a year after going all the way to the Grey Cup, winning just six of 18 games and failing to make the playoffs. Winnipeg finished third in the East Division behind the Montreal Alouettes (11-7) and the Toronto Argonauts (9-9).
"Personally I felt like I stepped up and performed pretty well," Palardy, six feet, 195-pounds, said. "I was more consistent. But as a team we were disappointed. After winning the East and going to the Grey Cup, to not make the playoffs is disappointing."
Coming into the season, Palardy was determined to improve on his 2011 campaign in Winnipeg, which saw him put just 76.9 per cent of his kicks through the uprights. So he tailored his workouts in the off-season to focus on consistency and explosiveness and the result was a 39-for-45 season, good for third in the league, with 154 points in 18 games. He also went on a streak of 13 consecutive field goals from Sept. 9 to Winnipeg's final game last Saturday against Montreal.
"When you're near the top of the league, you know you'll always have a job at the end of the day," he said. "After last year, to kick the way I did this year, I was happy with it. It just motivates me to try to get better in the off-season."
The Cobequid Cougars and Saint Mary's Huskies alum plans to take some time away from training to rest his leg and backpack around South America before returning home for the holiday season. When he resumes training in either Halifax or Winnipeg, he'll be focusing on getting stronger now that he has most of the technical aspects of kicking down.
His team will be looking to do the same as it moves into its new digs at the state-of-the-art Investors Group Field on the University of Manitoba campus. Palardy said he feels the Bombers have most of the tools in place to be successful, citing a strong receiving corps, an elite rusher in Chad Simpson, a strong defence and a skilled quarterback in Buck Pierce, when he's healthy. Winnipeg also took the interim tag off coach Tim Burke last week, solidifying that position.
"I think the new stadium will only motivate the guys to come in and play hard," Palardy said. "Burke is without a doubt the man to lead this team. Everyone rallies around him but we have to put in the necessary work to come back and fight to get back to the Grey Cup and win it."