Whether defending champions Hawthorn, who won the flag against the Sydney Swans in 2014, will have have another tilt at the premiership remains to be seen. The final eight won’t be decided until the end of round 23 in early September. What is known is that the stage is set for a series of blockbuster matches, with league rivals going head to head in clashes across Melbourne. In addition to the MCG – the traditional home of footy – finals matches will also be played at Etihad Stadium and at some interstate venues, with at least one non-Victorian side almost certain to finish in the top eight on the ladder.

All roads lead to the MCG
All roads lead to the MCG in Melbourne during the AFL Finals Series

There’s also plenty of off-field action to enjoy as Melbourne – the self-proclaimed sporting capital of Australia – is whipped into a finals frenzy. On the Monday after the home and away season concludes (September 7), the 10 teams that haven’t made the finals will commiserate with Mad Monday festivities. The traditional offbeat celebration entails players dressing up and running amok (although team officials have reined in public displays of misbehaviour in recent years). In the past players have dressed up as everything from cartoon characters and superheroes to drag queens, contentious criminals and scandalous public figures. If you are around an inner-city bar or a team’s headquarters on Mad Monday, you just might catch a glimpse of Hannibal Lecter or Fred Flintstone leaving the building.

On the Monday before the Grand Final (September 28), footy’s elite turns out for the Brownlow Medal dinner – the league’s best and fairest. Unless you have contacts in high places or are a WAG occupying a coveted place on the arm of one of the players, you can forget about getting a seat at Crown Palladium for football’s night of nights. You can, however, linger outside the casino to watch the arrivals action as AFL royalty glams it up on the red carpet.

As the countdown to grand final day begins, take the opportunity to watch the would-be premiership players go through their paces at open training sessions held at the clubs’ training grounds. This year Grand Final eve has been declared a statewide public holiday for the first time. Tens of thousands of Victorians are expected to take advantage of the day off to join in the annual Grand Final Parade, which will begin in Spring Street, at the Eastern end of the city, winding up outside the MCG, where finals players will be presented to the crowd.

The AFL Grand Final
The AFL Grand Final (Image courtesy of AFL Media)

After a sleepless night for some fans, Melbourne will wake to a series of Grand Final breakfasts. The most famous is held by the North Melbourne Football Club at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and costs $350, attracting a bevy of politicians, celebrities and sporting identities.

If you’re not lucky enough to score one of the 100,000-odd tickets to the big game, celebrate like most Melburnians do – with a backyard barbecue or at a boisterous pub decorated in team colours. Inner city suburbs such as Richmond, Fitzroy, Collingwood, Southbank, South Yarra and South Melbourne will all have a great range of pubs to watch the big game at. It doesn’t matter where you watch the Grand Final – the atmosphere is infectious.

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