KARAMOKO Dembele has thanked his Celtic team mates for helping him to cope with making the step up into the Parkhead first team - and targeted making more appearances next season.

Dembele was handed his debut for the Glasgow club in their final Ladbrokes Premiership match of the 2018/19 campaign against Hearts at Celtic Park back in May aged just 16 when he came on as a second-half substitute.

There has been great excitement about the emergence of the skilful winger since he played for the Celtic Under-20 side aged just 13 back in 2016 and his promotion to the senior team as such a young age has fuelled that further.

But the Scotland Under-17 player, who will fly out to Austria with Neil Lennon’s squad tomorrow for their pre-season training camp, has paid tribute to his team mates for enabling him to deal with that.

“There has been a lot of attention and a lot of pressure,” he told Celtic TV. “But my family and I have dealt with it well to be honest. Everyone has helped me get through it. I keep my head down and focus on football purely.

“Obviously I am not on the same level of development as them, but they have helped with managing my body and things like that. They manage how much running I do because obviously I am not as developed as everyone else.

“It’s really intense, but then this is my first pre-season with the first team and it is good to get that experience in with the boys. It’s much different (to playing with the reserve team) because the players are much more experienced. It is much better and more physical. It will obviously help me in the future so that is a good thing.

“Everything is much quicker when you play for the first team – you need to think quicker, you need to play quicker. It is really good to be honest for me and my progression in football.

“It is another opportunity for me to get into that first team and learn from everybody as well because this is my first pre-season away with them. It will be really good to see what it’s like. There are going to be games over there so hopefully I can get the opportunity to play in some of the games and prove myself.”

Dembele, who was born in London to Ivorian parents and brought up in Scotland, admitted he was surprised to get his chance against Hearts last season. But he stressed that he relished the experience and would like to do it again in the 2019/20 campaign.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “I wasn’t really expecting it. When I came on everyone was screaming my name. It was crazy. It was quite hard not to smile, but it was really nice. As soon as I got on the pitch, I didn’t want the game to finish. It was that good a feeling. I am looking forward to this season and hopefully getting another chance.

“There had been a lot of build-up, but finally getting to do it was kind of like a relief in a way. It was really good just to be able to deal with football. My family have been with me every step of the way through my journey so it was obviously a proud moment for them to see me do well.

“This season I will just focus on trying to get into the first team and getting as many opportunities as I can. I will do that in training and try to prove that in games as well. I will be relentless with it.”

Dembele also praised Lennon, who handed him his long-awaited debut, for his encouragement and advice. “He has been really good with me,” he said. “He has just said to keep my head down and focus on football purely. That is it really.”