He neatly book-ends his adult years in rugby with humorous tales from either end of the journey.
First, we have Phillip Matthews, the naive but ambitious Ulster player, and then, over a decade later, the gnarled ex-international seeing out time in the club game, and now the one being targeted by a new generation.
"In the early part of my Ulster career I got dropped and one of the reasons was because I missed a huge tackle against Ollie Campbell," says the former flanker, who skippered Ireland and bagged 38 caps and a Triple Crown over an eight-year Test career.
"It was near our goal-line and he threw me an outrageous dummy and went in and scored.
"It was one of the best lessons I ever had and made me change my mindset on tackling so that I had to make sure I nail the player whether he passed or not.
"And, as it turned out, there wasn't really a next time when I fell for something like that," recalls the now 60-year-old who, as a player, was well known for his uncompromising presence.
And then at the other end of the scale?
"When I stopped for Ireland in '92 I went back to my club Wanderers (in Dublin) and played for the seconds," he says.
"For the first time since I'd been 13, I wanted to play rugby just for fun.
"But I remember one game and at the first lineout there was this young fella just staring at me and I thought, 'Here we go', and at the next ruck I was on the ground and a boot connected with me where it shouldn't have.
"I took that as a compliment," laughs Matthews, who now works as a consultant in leadership development and executive coaching in his now long-term Dublin base.
Rugby became a consuming passion when he was a pupil at Regent House in Newtownards, and especially so after reading Willie John McBride's autobiography.
"It was a dream for me from 13 onwards, and I thought that, well, if Willie John could do it then maybe I could too."
Unusually, he and school-mate Nigel Carr, still a close friend, found themselves on the same trajectory and played all the way along together for Regent, Queen's, Ards, Ulster and then Ireland.
With the late Jimmy Davidson overseeing Matthews' development at university, and then again when the flanker was part of a richly talented Ulster side who took their preparation to a new level, it was no surprise when the Gloucester-born player made his Ireland debut in autumn 1984.
He and Carr then formed two-thirds of the combative Ireland back-row which stirringly claimed the Triple Crown in 1985.
"The hard times came after that," he adds of largely what followed on from his debut international season.
He took the captaincy in the late '80s when he didn't really want it and his form suffered along with that of the struggling team. Then missing out on the 1989 British and Irish Lions tour, after even being talked up as a potential captain, was - and is to this day - a shattering blow.
Illness had also intervened and post-viral fatigue syndrome sapped Matthews' strength to the point that he was getting through some games on memory alone.
By 1991, though, he had sufficiently recovered to be back to something close to his bellicose best and now was ready for the Irish captaincy for what was to be his second and final World Cup.
He was heavily involved in the off-field wrangling with the then very reluctant IRFU over player compensation at a time when the game was gradually moving closer to professionalism while, on the field, he led Ireland to within touching distance of a home World Cup semi-final.
"The what ifs of those last few minutes," he says, audibly sighing at the still haunting memory of dramatically taking the lead in the quarter-final against Australia only to lose with virtually the last play.
"Sometimes I find myself wondering what it would have been like to run out at Lansdowne Road to play the All Blacks in that Semi-Final.
"The support, the noise - it would have been amazing."
He was around for the following Five Nations but didn't see it through and knew his Test career was done.
"I was 32 and I had miles on the clock and it was just the right time to go," he says.
In fairness, Ollie Campbell aside, Matthews' timing could rarely have been faulted.