DANNY SUTCLIFFE has a hectic few weeks laid out in front of him, but at least he's well-prepared.
Fresh from making his first championship start for the Dublin seniors in Tullamore last Saturday, he leads the U21 brigade into a new Leinster battle against Laois tonight (Portlaoise, 7.30) and then - and only then - can he turn his full attentions to the June 23 clash with Kilkenny, the one the hurling world and its hurling mother has already begun to salivate over.
"It was a bit different, a bit faster maybe," he felt of Saturday's mammoth victory over Laois. "I didn't have the best of games, but it was just good to start off and get the first one out of the way. Hopefully I can get my place for the Kilkenny game. That's the aim now."
Sutcliffe was the only relative newcomer to the Dublin starting 15 as Anthony Daly rolled out all his big guns for a first glimpse of summer and he admits he was "delighted" to get an early nod from the manager, a sign perhaps that he will be named again in just under three weeks' time when the team for Kilkenny is selected.
"That was the goal all year," he reflects. "I didn't really know where I stood at Christmas but I just wanted to start this summer. I got a bit of a taste last year on the bench but the real goal should always be to start."
What awaits now prior to Kilkenny is uncertain, though. Ryan O'Dwyer will be back from suspension and, presumably, unleashed right back into the Dublin attack.
Ross O'Carroll and Alan McCrabbe could also be available after injury and with players of the calibre of 'Dotsy' O'Callaghan and Simon Lambert benched last weekend, Sutcliffe is fully aware that he is embarking on a battle to retain his starting status.
"It's a clear cut," he explains. "You put it behind you. Every player starts from scratch after every match. It's picked on form so you have to stay sharp in training. That's good. There are no comfort zones because we have such a strong panel.
"But that performance wasn't really anything to get excited about. Everyone knows the game on the 23rd is huge. It mightn't determine the whole summer but it's huge for us."
The St Jude's man says he enjoyed operating in a half-forward line alongside Conal Keaney for the first time, an area of the pitch he is acutely aware will need to be both combative and highly functional when they take on perhaps the most accomplished half-back unit ever to congregate.
"In my opinion, that's Kilkenny's strongest line, the half-back line," he asserts. "To make any progress that day, the three of us have to break even - if that's where I'm playing that day. Keaney just has phenomenal strength.
"I wouldn't want the wing-back catching puck outs," he adds. "If I don't catch it, I want to make sure he doesn't. But we will have to act as defenders as well and put as much pressure on them as possible.
"We can't have them delivering in easy ball. We have to take pressure off our own backs because they'll be under enough pressure themselves."
Sutcliffe adds, however: "I don't think there is a point worrying about who you're marking. Just because he's of the calibre of Tommy Walsh, you still have to play your own game and concentrate on that. If you have the ball, there's not really a whole lot he can do.
"Otherwise, you just end up picking up yellow cards and you're wasting your time, to be honest."
Of tonight's U21 clash with Laois, Sutcliffe concedes there is unfinished business after last year's All-Ireland U21 final loss to Galway.
He and Eamonn Dillon are the only two senior panelists involved with John Henderson's side, but they have a large cluster of last year's group still available, with Bill O'Carroll and Mark Schutte in particular and Lucan's 2011 Dublin minor captain Chris Crummey men to watch.
"We just have to go out and make sure we perform this year," he maintains. "But the under-21 Championship, you have to make sure you're prepared with everyone on the panel because it's straight knockout.
"You have new fellas coming in and fellas leaving from last year so you can't look beyond the next challenge and that's Laois for us tonight. You could be out straight away."