McAlpine was wingman and regularly represented Victoria in interstate football. He won the inaugural Footscray Best and Fairest award in 1927 and won the award again in 1930 and 1932. For consecutive seasons in 1931 and 1932 he finished in the top 5 of the Brownlow Medal count.
Having captained Footscray in 1933, he crossed over to Hawthorn where he had accepted the role of captain-coach. Despite retiring as a player in 1937 he stayed at the club for the following season as coach.