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Yeates: we are buzzin'

A BATCH of Irish lads, playing good football for a winning team under an Italian manager.

It's the formula we dream of over here and it's the one that Watford FC have hit upon in the Championship this season.

A Hornets side, managed by Gianfranco Zola and backboned by Irish talent like Mark Yeates and the impressive youngster Tommie Hoban, have turned around a dreadful start to the season -- five defeats in six at one stage -- to storm up the table into the playoff places, with a run of five wins from the last six.

Despite having massive financial resources which allow him to import seemingly unlimited talent from his native Italy into the club, Zola has given a chance to four Irish lads this season: Dubliners Mark Yeates and Connor Smith as well as English-born but Irish-qualified Tommie Hoban and Sean Murray. And veteran Yeates believes that Giovanni Trapattoni would not be wasting his time if he popped down to Vicarage Road to see what all the fuss is about.

"We have four Irish lads here and I think as a group we have done really well, it's showing in our results and the amount of appearances we are getting," Yeates told the Evening Herald.

"I know the international squad might seem a long way away for us but if Trapattoni or Marco Tardelli put in a call to Zola and came down to see us play, I think they'd be impressed.


"I haven't spoken to the manager here about Trapattoni, I don't know if they ever worked together but if Trapattoni did decide to come and watch us it wouldn't be a wasted journey.

"Sean and Tommie are in the side every week and they're there on merit. Gianfranco Zola is no fool and if someone of his stature is picking a couple of teenagers to play in the first team in a very tough league, they must be doing something right.

"Tommie Hoban is a defender who is up against class strikers every week, many of them international players, and he's held his own. The Irish lads here are ones for the future and as an Irishman I'm glad they qualify for us," added Yeates, who at 27 is the veteran of the Irish brigade at the club.

Winger Murray is in his third season with Watford's first team despite his age (still only 19), and while he hasn't yet hit the heights of last season, when he scored seven goals in 19 games, he is a player of real promise.

He's also made an impact at international level, netting two goals on his Ireland U21 debut in a stunning 4-2 win away to Italy in a Euro qualifier in September.

Smith, also 19, who was born in Dublin but raised in Mullingar, has come into the side this season, managing seven games.

But it's defender Hoban who has made a real impact this term.

"I don't think anyone expected Tommie to emerge in the way he has this season, he's been exceptional for us," says Yeates.

Yeates, who played Premier League football for Spurs alongside Robbie Keane when he was just a teenager, has had unsettled times in his career but the Tallaght man is thriving under Zola.

"When the gaffer got the job here, a few people said to me he was the one manager who would suit me because of the way I like to play.

"When you're someone who just wants to get on the ball and play football, having Zola as a manager is amazing and he gets the best out of us," he says.

"And since he came in he's been great with me, always smiling and a really good influence. When he speaks to you, you listen because it's Gianfranco Zola talking to you, all you want to do is learn from him.

"It seems to be rubbing off on me; I am playing some good stuff at the moment," Yeates added.

Yeates' dealings with the international team have been limited in recent times, as a B cap against Scotland in 2007 was his last involvement.

It's unlikely an Ireland role will come for Yeates, who turns 28 next month, but the re-emergence of Hoolahan at 30 has given him hope.

"Players around the same age as me have been given caps, the likes of Liam Lawrence and Weso at Norwich.

"But it's not something I am worrying about, if I am doing well for my club and helping them to win matches then great," says Yeates.

"I'm doing well in a side that's got into the top six in the Championship. I won't hold my breath, but if the call came to play even in a friendly I'd be over to Dublin in a heartbeat."