The Saipan saga, which rocked Irish soccer, is set to divide the nation again except this time the battlefield will be Dublin’s Olympia Theatre.
The Roy Keane affair has come under the satirical eye of Father Ted writer, Arthur Mathews, who is sending a cast of toga wearing singers into combat.
Mathews, alongside co-writer Michael Nugent, has turned the controversy into a new comedy musical epic, ‘I, Keano’, starring Apres Match stars Risteard Cooper and Gary Cooke, alongside a man famous for his Keane impressions, Today FM’s Mario Rosenstock.
“It was absolutely huge in Ireland, everyone had an opinion on it, it was very funny looking back,” Mathews said.
Mathews said the play reflected the epic dimensions which the affair took on, which inspired him to set it in Rome as a Julius Caesar-like tragedy.
He added: “It is so good to put people in togas you can’t take them that seriously.”
The writer said he decided the World Cup saga in Korea and Japan was destined for the stage a year after the Ireland captain exited Saipan in the summer of 2002.
Keane walked out after tempers flared over facilities and preparation leading to a major showdown with manager Mick McCarthy shortly before the start of the 2002 World Cup finals.
The controversy grabbed headlines for months afterwards as football fans debated the issue.
Mathews said the play will probably appeal to a wider audience than the average theatre-goer.
“It is more because really everyone had an opinion on that,” he said.
“I think people will think, ‘My God, we got upset about something that wasn’t really that important’.”
The musical covers all the famous incidents such as the captain’s fury at the goalkeepers’ training regime and the lack of facilities.
Mathews said the Manchester United midfielder’s return to the team last year has eased sore memories but people will still recall the World Cup row for decades.
“It’s ironic really as Saipan is one of the bloodiest battles in World War II and we will remember it for an argument between two footballers,” he said.
The characters for the epic musical include Keano, a great warrior whose passion for perfection is exceeded only by his fierce and unpredictable temper.
The general is Macartacus, aided by Quinnus, who builds children’s hospitals. It also stars expert Packie Bonnerus. In the play as Keano arrives he finds the ground is too hard and the troops are partying.
The main warrior is torn between the conflicting advice of a Scottish dolphin god, Fergie, and the tap-dancing wood nymph, Dunphia.
Mathews said the cast were an obvious choice with Rosenstock famed for his take on the Cork footballer with ‘Radio Roy’.
Some of the other actors and comedians include Tara Flynn from the original Nualas, Dessie Gallagher, Malcahy McKenna, Paul McGlinchey and Joe Taylor.
The musical, which is directed by Peter Sheridan, opens in the Olympia Theatre on Tuesday, February 8, with previews running from February 3.