A simple push in a busy nightclub - Craig Garvey should have turned the other cheek and walked away.
But he chose to stay.
He chose to retaliate with a flurry of fists.
Seven months on from that fateful February night, the consequences of Garvey’s split-second decision to stay and fight were truly realised.
The St George Illawarra Dragons player was sentenced on Friday to 300 hours of community service after he was previously found guilty of violently attacking Illawarra man Christopher Allan at the Hotel Illawarra.
The assault left Allan with a bloody cut above his eye.
Magistrate Mark Richardson rejected Garvey’s claims he had been acting in self-defence when he repeatedly punched Mr Allan, describing his reaction as ‘‘over the top’’.
In court on Friday, Garvey’s lawyer described the Dragons’ hooker as a community-minded young man who spent his spare time involved in self-development programs for Aboriginal children.
He’d been raised in a stable, loving family environment, lived with his mother and brother in Matraville and had never before been in trouble with the law.
He had friends and colleagues who spoke highly of him.
By all accounts, Garvey was a good man.
Magistrate Richardson agreed, saying the evidence before him suggested Garvey’s behaviour towards Mr Allan that night had been an anomaly.
He said Garvey had been staring down the barrel of a suspended jail sentence when he walked into the quaint and picturesque Kiama courthouse on Friday morning.
However, glowing references combined with Garvey’s contribution to the community persuaded him to lessen the sentence.
‘‘[I accept] this was an aberration; you are basically a law abiding person who makes a contribution to the community,’’ Magistrate Richardson said.
In turn, Garvey told the court that he had learnt from his mistakes.
He now knew when to walk away, he said, during the preparation of a pre-sentencing report for the court.
While Garvey’s immediate future is clear – he is required to report to authorities within seven days to start community service work – his career as a professional footballer remains uncertain.
Dragons’ management issued a brief statement on the matter on Friday afternoon, providing little clarity on the situation.
‘‘The Dragons are awaiting the receipt of all relevant information regarding the outcome [of court proceedings] at which time the club will hold discussions with all appropriate parties before making any determinations,’’ the statement read.
Garvey also declined to comment on the sentence or his future at the club.
Note: An earlier version of this story said Garvey was sentenced to 600 hours community service - 300 hours for the assault charge and 300 hours for a charge of affray. The affray charge has subsequently been withdrawn by police and the additional 300 hours removed.