Port Adelaide won the SAFL minor premiership in 1909, and with it the right of challenge in the finals. The Magpies won 9 of their 12 home and away matches, but crucially 2 of their 3 losses were sustained at the hands of their main rivals for the premiership, West Adelaide, who finished in second place with 8 wins and 4 defeats. In third place came Norwood (7-5 and 53.7%) followed by West Torrens (7-5, 52.7%).
The first semi final panned out more or less as expected with West Adelaide ousting West Torrens from the flag race with a comfortable 27 point win. In the following Saturday’s second semi final, however, there was a shock, with Norwood not only defeating Port Adelaide, but doing so with consummate ease by 50 points, 11.12 (78) to 3.10 (28).
The final was thus between reigning premiers West Adelaide and the team which had claimed that honour in 1907, Norwood. Port Adelaide, as minor premiers, waited to challenge the winner a week later. That winner proved to be West Adelaide, which triumphed comfortably enough by 28 points despite some wayward kicking for goal, something which would return to haunt them in the challenge final. Scores were West Adelaide 8.18 (66) defeated Norwood 5.8 (38).
Reports of the 1909 SAFL challenge final paint a delightful if somewhat quaint picture. The spectators basked in warm sunshine, and were entertained both prior to the match and during the intervals by renditions of popular tunes courtesy of a military band. Thoughts of the military engaging in activities more strenuous and deadly than the playing of music were presumably far from the minds of onlookers and players alike.
The two teams’ recent results against Norwood meant that West entered the match as warm favourites to win, but the Magpies could never be underestimated, and the margin of victory was expected to be comparatively small. So it proved.
A crowd of roughly 25,000 attended the match. In the opening term the Magpies kicked to the southern end of the ground which was favoured by a moderate breeze. They began brightly, combining well and posting two major scores in the first few minutes. Both goals came from free kicks with “Welshy” Davies and Horrie Pope the scorers. “Their play was remarkably keen, their passing by hand effective, and their kicking and marking splendid. So fast was the game that the followers had a hard task to keep up with the ball, consequently the placed men had more opportunities than usual of sistinguishing themselves. The seasiders were far surer in picking the ball from the ground, and they eluded their opponents more cleverly than the westerners. A feature of the game was the numerous single-handed encounters between the placed men, who were in the majority of cases so well matched that their contests were full of interest and excitement.”
Ten minutes in and West finally troubled the goal umpire, but he only had to raise a single flag. Nevertheless, the general balance of play was starting to become more even, thanks in part to West’s tactic of deploying an extra rover in the shape of Alby Klose, who began to feature more prominently in the game. For a time Klose was forced to play without a guernsey, it having been ripped from him in a tackle. Eventually, however, a replacement was found, and no sooner had Klose become fully dressed once more than West raised the two flags for the first time, sixteen minutes of playing time having elapsed. “Shrimp” Dowling was the goal kicker.
Port rallied, and a fluent move involving several players culminated in Angelo Congear marking close to goal and straight in front. He duly converted, leaving the seasiders with a 10 point advantage at the first change, 3.1 (19) to West’s 1.3 (9).
With the breeze at their backs West Adelaide began the second term energetically and with purpose, although the Magpies continued to dominate in the air. The first score of the quarter was a punted goal to Alcorn for Westies, and shortly afterwards first J.F. McCarthy and then Klose had excellent scoring opportunities but kicked erratically and only registered behinds. Another behind soon followed, and then from a mark near goal Alcorn failed to duplicate his earlier effort meaning West had now scored 2.7, putting them level with the Magpies. Alcorn soon made amends, however, when he again marked near goal and this time made no mistake. Westies were therefore in front by a goal.
Just as it seemed the westerners were beginning to stamp their authority on the game Port Adelaide attacked and, after taking a fine mark, “Shine” Hosking levelled the scores with a beautifully drop kicked goal. West scored a behind just prior to the half time bell to recapture the lead by that margin. Scores West Adelaide 3.8 (26); Port Adelaide 4.1 (25).
Port dominated the early stages of the third quarter, and goals by Mal Donaghy and Congear gave them a handy 11 point advantage. West, however, hit back strongly, and though some fine last gasp defending by Dempster kept them at bay for a while, they gradually managed to reduce the deficit courtesy of a flurry of behinds followed by a goal to Dowling. This last score reduced Port’s lead to a single point. Another behind to West levelled things and, for the remainder of the quarter, the black and reds attacked relentlessly. J.F. McCarthy was a dominating influence in West’s forward lines and after taking one of several fine overhead marks he goaled to recapture the lead for his side. There followed a couple of behinds plus another goal to Dowling, making the half time scores West Adelaide 6.15 (51) to Port Adelaide 6.1 (37).
The first few minutes of the final term were tightly contested, but eventually West began to get on top once more. A behind increased their lead to 15 points, and shortly afterwards Dowling once more kicked truly. “Port Adelaide had now shot their bolt, and the cleverness which they had shown in handling the ball belonged to their opponents.” Hosking managed a behind at the culmination of a rare attacking foray by the seasiders, but the game was lost, and West comfortably played out time to win more convincingly than their 21 point advantage suggested. Final scores were West Adelaide 7.17 (59) defeated Port Adelaide 6.2 (38).
The best player afield was probably West c entreman “Dick” Head who was frequently in the thick of the action and proved highly influential. Tom Leahy excelled in the ruck, and during the second half in particular was a dominating force around the ground, taking numerous fine marks. Dowling was a livewire when on the ball and a had decisive impact when resting in the forward lines, kicking 4 goals. Alec Conlin, Alby Klose, and the whole red and black half back line of Vic Stephens, Bernie Leahy and Horgan were others to do well.
The pick of the Port Adelaide players was rover Angelo Congear. Dickson, McFarlane, Mack, Hosking and Dempster also performed creditably.
Unusually, the 1909 Championship of Australia play off took place in Melbourne, an indication perhaps of the greater respect which Victorians were developing for South Australian football, a respect based partly on West Adelaide's memorable victory over Carlton the previous year. This time, however, there was to be no repetition, West going down to South Melbourne by 24 points, 6.14 (50) to 11.8 (74). West had at least as much of the general play as their opponents, but just as in the SANFL finals poor kicking for goal let them down.
After losing eight players from their premiership side of the previous year West slipped down the list to 5th in 1910. This proved to be just a temporary hiccup, however, for in 1911 the side was back to its best, winning the first 10 games of the season, and ultimately qualifying for the finals comfortably in 2nd position. A 21 point semi final win over Sturt followed, with minor premiers Port Adelaide being bundled aside by 3 goals a fortnight later in the final. The challenge final saw Port providing more resolute opposition, but West ultimately got home by 5 points thanks to a late goal from skipper, Jos Dailey.
VFL premiers Essendon were West's next opponents in the Championship opf Australia play off. Held at Adelaide Oval, the match attracted a disappointing crowd of just 6,000 spectators, but those who stayed away missed an enthralling contest. For most of the day there was little between the sides, and the result could easily have gone either way. Ultimately though it was West who had their noses in front at the final bell by just 3 points. Final scores were West Adelaide 8.9 (57) to Essendon 7.12 (54). Dowling, Alec Conlin, Hele, Jos Dailey and Head were among the best for the home side.
An interesting consequence of West's twin triumphs in 1911 was a decision by the South Australian Brewing Company Ltd. to adopt red and black as the colours on the labels and bottle tops of its West End beer, a practice which continues to this day. (In the immediate wake of this innovation West began somewhat quaintly to be referred to as the bottle tops, a practice which, not surprisingly, did not endure for quite so long.)
It was a case of history repeating itself in 1912 as West thrashed Sturt in a semi final and then twice accounted for minor premiers Port Adelaide to take out the flag. The challenge final, which West won 6.10 (46) to 5.2 (32), was watched by a South Australian record crowd of 28,500. “Dick” Head, the “king of centremen”, was best afield, just as he had been in 1909.
West were disappointed when negotiations with VFL premiers Essendon to hold a Championship of Australia game fell through; in the opinion of most associated with the club, West's 1912 side was superior in many respects to that of the previous year, and victory in such a game could confidently have been anticipated.
The period 1908 to 1912 remains far and away the most auspicious in West Adelaide's history, and the fall from grace was to be unaccountably swift. Between 1913 and 1921 (and excluding the years 1916-18 when the competition went into mothballs because of the war) the black and reds won only 30 and drew 3 of 80 matches, reaching the finals just twice. It was almost as though the club's five years of glory had never happened.
If the period from 1908 to 1912 represented West’s most noteworthy era there are some who might suggest that Port Adelaide’s immediate pre-world war one teams, which netted premierships in 1910, 1013 and 1914, were the Magpies greatest ever. In 1914 the side won every single match it played, including a challenge match against a team representing the rest of the SAFL, and the championship of Australia decider against Carlton.
Port and West would go on to engage in a fierce rivalry during the 1950s when the two sides, which manifested diametrically different approaches to the game, confronted one another in four grand finals. Sadly for Westies, the Magpies won the lot, but it says much for the epic nature of the rivalry that their margins of victory were 3, 16, 2 and 10 points. In the 1963 grand final the two rivals met yet again, with Port Adelaide doing just enough to edge home by 3 points.
 “The Express and Telegraph”, 20/9/09, page 3. Port were interchangeably known at this time as the Magpies and the seasiders.
 Ibid, page 3.
Bernie Leahy (West Adelaide's skipper)
Horrie Pope of Port
West Adelaide's Jos Dailey
West rover Alby Klose
West Go Back to Back - SAFL Challenge Final, Saturday 18th September 1909: West Adelaide versus Port Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval
Port's Angelo Congear