Collingwood young gun Marley Williams has escaped immediate jail time after being found guilty of grievous bodily harm for breaking a man's jaw in a one-punch attack outside a nightclub.
Williams slumped with relief as Justice Julie Wager told the 20 year-old his assault on 29-year-old Matthew Robertson during the Christmas holidays in 2012 was serious, but that he deserved a chance to redeem himself.
She handed him a 12-month jail term, suspended for 12 months.
Collingwood director of football Rodney Eade was in court, along with members of Williams' family, as he was told his fate.
Justice Wager said he should not have punched the victim, but his injuries were at the lower end of the scale, and he had shown considerable remorse since.
"In the 15 months since you have worked hard to make changes in your life," Judge Wager said.
Williams had been backed by character references from Collingwood president Eddie McGuire, CEO Gary Pert, coach Nathan Buckley and Mr Eade, who told the court that the club saw Williams as a future leader, and said his actions was "out of character"
"I have seen Marley really grow. On the field he is a hard player ... and a very valued member of the team," Mr Eade said.
"His peers rate him extremely highly. The actions were (out of character)."
Mr Pert, who was one of the first to congratulate Williams as he left the dock, said outside court Williams was very relieved but very sorry.
"For his family and friends this is something he feels he has let them down on, and also his teammates," he said.
"This is something that has been out of character for him, and he just wants the opportunity to get on with his life and be a better person."
Through Collingwood, Williams later said he now wanted to “quietly get on with his life”.
“I would like to apologise to all of those hurt, one way or another, by my actions. I’m deeply sorry for the pain I’ve caused a lot of people. The last 16 months have not been easy for anyone involved.
“I have certainly learned that, regardless of the circumstances, you have to be strong enough to walk away. To be the better man.
“I’m relieved and grateful for the opportunity to return to football, a game I value and respect in a new way after what I have put myself and others through.”
Mr Pert said Williams would not be making a public statement, and would return to Melbourne to resume his football career starting in the VFL.
The Magpies' defender, who arrived at court flanked by a black-suited entourage, had denied the GBH charge, which stemmed from the violence outside Studio 146 nightclub in Williams' home town of Albany.
At the week-long trial earlier this year, prosecutors said Williams had acted out of "malicious, vindictive vengeance" when he swung the punch, which was captured on CCTV outside the club.
Mr Robertson was flown to Perth for emergency surgery after the hit.
Williams denied he had been out for revenge on his victim, claiming he had been "mob attacked" in the toilets of the club by Mr Robertson and two friends.
He said he had feared for his own safety after he left the club and the men approached him on the street.
In a police interview that followed, Williams said: "I wasn't going to let them get the better of me".
Defence lawyer Tom Percy said the punch was reactive and instinctive, the result of an earlier unprovoked attack.
"The decision to punch him was taken a fraction of a second before it occurred," Mr Percy said.
But Prosecutor Tony Loudon said that any provocation on the night had expired.
"What you are left with is revenge ... He has put himself in a position to assess the availability of revenge, and that can never be a mitigating feature," Mr Loudon said.
Mr Loudon also said it appeared Williams had not suffered any extra punishment because of the adverse headlines - or because he had worked with homeless people in Melbourne at the behest of the club.
Mr Percy said Williams had recently re-signed a new three year contract with the club, and their support for him was ongoing.
Williams joined the Magpies as a rookie in 2012, breaking into the side the following year and being named the round 18 AFL Rising Star nominee for his performance against Greater Western Sydney.
After the guilty verdict, the product of North Albany and then Claremont admitted he had been devastated by the guilty finding.
“I made a mistake, and I'm sorry for that. I've attempted ever since to do the right thing and the right thing for me, my family, friends and everyone else is to have some time out," he said.