Conor Hazard recognised the boost Celtic’s youngsters were given in the home Scottish Premiership game against Hibernian on Monday night.
Defender Christopher Jullien’s positive test for COVID-19 following the club’s return from a controversial training camp in Dubai led to 13 other first-team players having to self-isolate as close contacts along with manager Neil Lennon and assistant John Kennedy.
First-team coach Gavin Strachan, reserve boss Tommy McIntyre and his assistant Stephen McManus were in charge of a makeshift Hoops side and they oversaw American winger Cameron Harper make his debut with inexperienced Stephen Welsh also starting.
The Hoops ended up with debutant Armstrong Oko-Flex and fellow youngsters Karamoko Dembele and Ewan Henderson on the pitch before Hibs striker Kevin Nisbet cancelled out David Turnbull’s opener with an injury-time strike.
Hazard, 22, returned to play only his sixth game for Celtic and the man who was the penalty shoot-out hero in the 2020 William Hill Scottish Cup final win against Hearts last month, speaking in the club’s match programme for Saturday’s match against Livingston, said: “Not many people in the world get to put on the Celtic jersey, so I’m sure the younger guys coming into the squad this week felt the same way I felt recently.
“It’s always an honour and anyone who gets the chance to do so at a young age can take a real boost from that in their upcoming years.
“For me, it’s always about trying to get that experience of playing at this level, playing under pressure in every game and making sure every performance needs to count.
“My only advice to any of the younger guys coming in, having experienced it myself recently, is to enjoy it.
There’s no point in playing football if you don’t enjoy it.
‘We know we’ve got the quality of players coming through as well, especially from all the youth levels here at the club, and those guys are all confident in their ability.
“They wouldn’t be at the club if they weren’t good enough to play and step up as and when required.
“It’s less than ideal to have the gaffer and Kendo missing in the dugout at present, but Gavin is more than capable of leading things in their absence. On Monday, he was very good with everybody, and he’s got a lot of respect in the dressing room.
“I’ve also worked with Tommy McIntyre loads coming up through the youth as well, so it was good to see some familiar faces in there, and Woodsy (goalkeeping coach Stevie Woods) was, of course, there as well.
“At this club, you need to be prepared to play in any scenario. I thought we did well against Hibs and given how the game went at the end, I didn’t think we deserved that.”