Following active service in the Second World War, Ian McKay was invited to train with the North Adelaide Football Club in 1946. Later the same year he played the first of fourteen interstate matches (including several as Captain of South Australia) and was awarded the trophy for the best player for the state. In 1948 he started a club record term of 8 years as Captain of North Adelaide, and by his retirement in 1955 had played 164 games for the club.
Under Ian's captaincy North's won the 1949 premiership (its first in 18 years), lost to Port Adelaide in 1951, and in the 1952 grand final defeated the Redlegs by a record 18 goals. It was during this match at the Adelaide Oval that the famous photograph of Ian taking one of the most celebrated high marks was captured. The photo was later used nationally and overseas to promote the game. Ian McKay was Magarey Medallist in 1950, the first fullback to win the coveted award.