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Legends game on the cards as AFL plans pre-finals fiesta

A high-profile women's is being looked at for the bye round before the finals - ${keywords}
A high-profile women's is being looked at for the bye round before the finals

A WEEK-LONG celebration of football is central to AFL plans to maintain momentum in the bye weekend to be introduced this season between round 23 and the first week of the finals.

Awards nights, a Legends' game, a high-profile women's game and greater opportunities for teams in the finals to celebrate the achievement of making the eight will create a series of back-to-back events leading into the finals.

The AFL has also flagged finishing the home and away season on a Monday night if the result of a round 23 game will determine a finals spot and could kick off the finals on a Thursday night 10 days later, shortening the time between the action.

Hawthorn v Collingwood, Adelaide v West Coast and the Sydney Swans v Richmond are three round 23 games already looming as potential end-of-season blockbusters that might have a finals berth on the line.

Each game would attract a huge Monday night audience if a finals spot was being determined.

AFL CEO Gill McLachlan said he was excited about the program being put together and although he conceded having the bye was a risk, he said the bigger risk was to make no changes to the conditions that allowed finalists to rest players in round 23 last year.

"The bigger risk occurs if you continue to let what happened last year happen and put the integrity of the competition at risk," McLachlan said.

"The momentum risk still exists but the program that has been put together creates many opportunities."

He said a Monday night game in round 23 was certainly in the AFL's thinking but it would have to be the "right game in the right market".

The All-Australian and NAB Rising Star award nights would be held on different nights in the first week, with days still to be confirmed, and the E.J Whitten game will be played and broadcast by Channel 7, Foxtel and Telstra on Friday night.

The AFL then plans for a Women's game between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs to be played and broadcast Saturday night.

The venue for the game is yet to be determined but the AFL expects the growing interest in the women's game to attract an audience.

Last year when Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs women's team met in a curtain raiser in August, 300,000 viewers watched the game on television.

The week off will also give state leagues space to play their finals in front of football hungry crowds.

There are also expected to be moves made to make players involved in finals accessible to media in the bye week.

The Brownlow Medal count will remain on the Monday night of Grand Final week.

McLachlan would not rule out a Sunday final still being played in the first week of the finals even if the series kicked off with a Thursday night game.

There are six Thursday night games in 2016 and the past two-week one Sunday finals at the MCG in 2013 and 2015 have attracted 90,000 spectators.