Wins in the final four rounds of the season saw South Melbourne finish the home and away season on top of the ladder, a big percentage margin ahead of Carlton.
Under the final four system of the era, South played Collingwood in one semi-final, with Carlton taking on Essendon in the other. The Herald reported on the South-Collingwood match, which attracted 35,000 fans: "All roads led to the Melbourne Cricket Ground. People on foot swarmed there. Tens of thousands poured down in train and tram, in motor and cab, and, in fact, every kind of wheeled vehicle bore a human burden".
Collingwood led by two points at half-time, but South played such inspired football to kick six goals in the third quarter that the Herald reported: "They (the Southeners) had caught the Collingwood backs napping and their forwards covered themselves in glory. It was a most inspiring series of dashes and roused the spectators to a pitch of great enthusiasm". South won by 21 points and, with Carlton having defeated Essendon by 36 points the previous week, football fans were granted their wish of a South-Carlton final.
When Carlton defeated South by 22 points, the Southeners - as top team - had right of challenge in what was to be the Grand Final. Not only did Carlton dent South's premiership ambitions, but the Southeners were dealt two savage blows in a rough and ready final. Jim Caldwell was reported for striking Carlton's George Bruce and was suspended for nine matches, while dashing full-back Bill Dolphin was injured and missed the Grand Final.
To make South's task even tougher, Carlton welcomed the return of star defender Norman Clark for the Grand Final after he missed the final because of neuralgia. South, despite its problems, held Carlton over the first half, with scores tied at both quarter and half-time. The Australasian's "Markwell" later noted that whereas South had tried vigour to upset Carlton in the first finals clash, it relied on pace and moving the ball into the open in the Grand Final and its "running with the ball was distinctly the best for the year".
South was helped enormously when Carlton's Jack Bacquie could hardly run in the third term after twisting an ankle just before half-time and Martin Gotz had to be carried from the ground with a "sprained foot". South took full advantage of Carlton's problems for Alf Gough to kick a goal just before the three-quarter time bell to give the red and white a seven-point lead.
Carlton attacked relentlessly over the final quarter, but could manage only one goal, by former South player Harvey Kelly from a place-kick on a tight angle. Although South managed just two behinds in the final term, these were enough to give the red and white victory by two points for a first VFL premiership.
"Markwell" reported: "The excitement that prevailed among the 37,000 spectators was indescribable ... the playing ground was rushed the moment the first tinkle was heard, and a surging multitude of the madly-excited barrackers bore the victors shoulder high from the field. Such a scene of delirious enthusiasm had never before been witnessed at the finish of a football match in Melbourne".
"Markwell" paid tribute to captain-coach Charlie Ricketts when he wrote: "Consummate skill in leadership on the field belongs to few men. It would, perhaps, be an exaggeration to say that captain Ricketts is the possessor of such skill ... His training and judgement have built up a side largely composed of men who, until recently, were junior players, into a company of artists ... To him, therefore, is due chief credit for the team's achievement".
The 1909 season, however, was not quite over for South as the red and white the following week played an exhibition match against country side Hamilton while en route to Adelaide to play for the "premier of premiers" title against West Adelaide. South claimed the title with a 24-point victory, with The Australasian naming Bill Thomas, Jack Scobie and Alan Pentland among the best players.
1909 Grand Final, at MCG, October 2
|South Melbourne||0.5||2.9||4.12||4.14 (38)|
|Goals: Franks, Gough, Mortimer, Ricketts|
|Best: Cameron, Franks, Kerr, Mortimer, Thomas, Scobie|
|B:||Alan Pentland||Jack Scobie||Ted Wade|
|HB:||Arthur Hiskins||Bill Thomas||Tom Grimshaw|
|C:||Horrie Drane||George Bower||Bill Moxham|
|HF:||Jim Cameron||Bob Deas||Dave Barry|
|F:||Alex Kerr||Len Mortimer||Alf Gough|
|Foll:||Bert Franks||Vic Belcher||Charlie Ricketts (Capt.)|
|Action shots from the 1909 South Melbourne-Carlton Grand Final|