FORMER Clarence Valley and St George footballer Cecil Heron was behind bars last night after receiving a seven and a half year jail term for his role in a vicious pub brawl.

Heron had been found guilty of committing grievous bodily harm with intent in Grafton District Court last December for 'glassing' Kevin Freebody at the Argyle Hotel in June 2003.

However, Heron had to wait until yesterday to learn his fate.

Family, friends and supporters began gathering outside the court around 10am but had to wait until midday before Judge Ducker began proceedings to deliver his sentence.

Heron appeared relaxed in the court room, talking from the dock to court officials and offering a smile every now and again.

His advocate, Bill Sandilands, called several witnesses into the court to give character references, including Heron's friend and former St George team mate Ricky Walford.

South Grafton Rugby League Club committee member Graham Peters told the court how Heron had befriended him as he was getting over serious illness and encouraged him to become an active member of the Rebels.

He said Heron had treated him like a son and had always dealt calmly with people who might have harassed him in social situations.

"He's a magnet for broken down, drunk footballers who want to have a go at him," he said.

BY the time the court broke for lunch just after 1pm the public gallery was full of Heron's supporters, restless as they waited for Judge Ducker's sentence.

When Judge Ducker did start to give his final submission before sentencing, he was slow and deliberate in his reasoning.

Citing the evidence and character references seen during the trial, he referred to Heron as an 'extremely good character' who suffered from occasional serious behavioural lapses.

He conceded that Heron had been provoked by Mr Freebody but that his reaction and the subsequent injury he inflicted on him were of a very serious nature.

"This was not an offence where there has been malice or forethought, where there has been premeditation," he said. "This is something that arose in the spur of the moment.Weighing up these matters as best I can, all things considered, I'm of the view that the appropriate non-parole period is five years and six months."

Heron's family and friends in the gallery remained silent but many seemed shocked at the severity of the sentence.

Heron will not be eligible for parole from Grafton Jail until June 9, 2010.

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