|Date Of Birth:||1921|
|Place Of Birth:||Dublin|
|Date Of Death:||Oct 6 2010|
|Place Of Death:||Maynooth|
|Debut:||27-Aug-44, City Cup, (H) v. Bohemians|
From the age of 12, Nicholas Matthews, but known to the football fraternity as Johnny, was collecting football mementoes. Starting with Munster Victoria, he moved to Home Farm where he spent a very medal-productive three years, including wins in the Leinster Minor Cup and League.
At Rossville for a couple of seasons he added further to his collection. But from the time as an 18-year-old that he made his LOI debut with Brideville in the 1939-40 season, it was a full ten seasons later before he collected his first League of Ireland award.
He came to Dundalk in the summer of 1944 following the exclusion of St James Gate from the League. He already had five League of Ireland seasons and 27 League goals under his belt—two years with Brideville (1939-40 and 1940-41) and the next three with St James Gate. In his first year with the Gate (1941-42) he was the club’s leading League marksman with 12 goals and that total included five goals in a December 6-1 win against Drumcondra.
When Dundalk, with Joey Donnelly bizarrely at centre-half, went three down by half-time in Johnny’s debut against Bohemians in the opening game of the 1944-45 season, it was time for a change. Matthews was switched to centre-half, Donnelly to his favourite right-half slot, Dundalk came back to win 5-4, and for the rest of his career Johnny invariably wore either the number 5 or number 6 shirt. He was no slouch at goalscoring and during his ten LOI seasons he was credited with 37 League goals alone (8 Brideville,19 St James’s Gate, 10 Dundalk.)
In his five years at Dundalk, when he made 164 appearances, he represented the League of Ireland on six occasions playing at left-half, and after moving to the Irish League he was honoured a further 16 times playing with the Irish League—all at centre-half. On his debut Inter-League appearance, in an April 1948 4-0 loss to a crack English League team at Preston, Johnny was judged in the Irish Independent as “one of the most outstanding players on the field”.
For Ireland’s December 1948 Dalymount Park friendly against Switzerland, a Sunday fixture, Johnny was on standby in the event that any of the English League players failed to reach Dublin in time for the match.
In addition to his Inter-League caps, he was also honoured in the prestigious war-time games between the FAI XI and the Combined Forces, making his first appearance in the 1943 fixture with the Army team and in 1948 he was with the FAI team, 5-2 winners in the last match of that series.
Although called upon to fill the number 5 shirt on occasions, his major role at Dundalk was at left half, and in his five seasons he featured in some of the club’s most celebrated half-back combinations—Joey Donnelly, Johnny Leathem, Matthews (44-45), Peter Molloy, Jimmy Dykes, Matthews (45-46), Donnelly, Dykes, Matthews (46-47) and in his final Cup-winning season Bob Murphy, Mick Skevington, Matthews.
That final season of 1948-49, when Johnny was club captain, brought the City Cup, FAI Cup and Runner-up in the Inter City Cup—but it also resulted in the near-bankruptcy of the club and in the year-end fire sale, the price put on Johnny was £50!
Recalling the story to Sean Ryan, co-author of The Gillette Book of the FAI Cup Johnny said “Sam Prole was not too pleased when I didn’t go to West Ham. He offered me £650 and expenses but I had just moved into a new house and didn’t consider football a secure livelihood. The fee—in the region of £9,000—would have been a League of Ireland record”.
It would take years for the club to recover from the losses incurred in the FAI Cup winning season—meanwhile Johnny moved Northwards, taken to Ards by Belfast Celtic legend Harry Walker and after one season he followed Walker to Glenavon ( for an Irish League record fee of £1,750) where another glorious chapter awaited.
Now settled at centre-half he played a key role in the historic Irish League Championship victory of Glenavon in 1951-52, by a runaway 10-point margin, earning undying fame with the Lurgan club. As well as captaining the side, he was an ever-present during the march to the Championship victory, which was the first Irish League pennant claimed by a provincial club.
In his single Ards season he was honoured 3 times with selection to the Irish League team and over the following few years while with Glenavon he added 13 more Irish League caps to his collection. Three were against the British Army’s Western Command, completing a rare set of representative honours—as well as playing for the FAI XI against the Irish Army in 1948, he had also lined out with the Army team in the 1943 fixture between these sides.
After five years in the Irish League he returned to the League of Ireland to finish out his playing career with Transport.
In 1993, in honour of his 1949 Cup exploits, he was inducted into the inaugural FAI Cup Hall of Fame in the company of other Dundalk Legends, Joe Ralph and Tommy McConville.
Johnny was a fitter who worked with the Urney factory in Tallaght and while he was with Dundalk the Dublin-based players were trained by his uncle Paddy Birmingham, who had captained Brideville in the 1930 FAI Cup final, losing to Shamrock Rovers by a last-minute goal, and had been capped for Ireland in 1934 against Hungary.
What They Said About Him
Dundalk Democrat after Dundalk’s 1949 3-0 FAI Cup victory over Shelbourne: “It was a great day for the inspired Matthews, who gave a non-stop and valiant display, playing a real captain’s role and he deserved the tribute of his admirers who carried him off the pitch on their shoulders at the end of the struggle.”
2 Wins: FAI and City Cups 1948-49.
4 Runners Up: League and City Cup 1947-48; Inter City Cup 1948-49; Shield 1946-47.
23 Representative caps:
1 FAI XI (v Irish Army, 1948); 6 League of Ireland (Dundalk); 16 Irish League (Ards 3; Glenavon 13)
FAI Cup Hall of Fame (1993)