Derek McGrath believes that Waterford have now established themselves as the frontrunners to win the All-Ireland title.
The Déise eased past Cork to their fourth Allianz Hurling League crown on Saturday - a first national trophy since they won it under McGrath in 2015 - and expectations have now been raised that the 63-year wait for Liam MacCarthy could come to an end this summer.
Limerick, champions in three of the last four years, have beaten Waterford in their last five championship meetings but McGrath told the RTÉ Podcast that he thinks his county will take some stopping this year.
"Contenders? We are the team to beat now. Simple as," he said.
"I texted a few of the boys on Saturday. I've had little or no contact with them over the years because you try to give fellas space.
"But every text that came back was 'Step One complete’. That was their thought process. It’s very exciting.
"Psychologically it’s a fillip to get a trophy in the cabinet and have it almost out of the way.
"If you look at Conor Prunty’ speech, and (Kerry football captain) David Clifford’s speech, both were caveated by – there’s a next step, a bigger step here.
"Someone said to me yesterday that Tipp are waiting in the long grass (in the Munster first round on 17 April). They can all wait in the long grass. Whoever beats Waterford will be going up the steps."
Limerick’s strategy over the last two seasons has appeared to be a more gradual build-up to championship and for the likes of Tipperary and Galway, introducing new players was perhaps more of a priority than making the knockout stages.
But McGrath believes that Waterford still have another gear to go up, having also played most of their fixtures without some key men.
"Waterford undoubtedly got most out of the league," he said. "A national trophy, confidence.
"There is still freshness to come back into the team in terms of Jamie Barron… (they got) 70 minutes into Calum Lyons, Conor Prunty… We expected they wouldn’t risk them but they got game time into them.
"With all the discussions about how will the league stand to you, I think we are going to get better.
"People will say they’re getting giddy down in Waterford but when you talk about marquee players around the country, I think we have seven or eight.
"I know Austin (Gleeson) well. He will be humming come Easter Sunday.
"The counter-attacking system that Waterford have in play, with the runners, Neil Montgomery, Jack Fagan, the unfashionable guys doing the work and then breaking at unbelievable pace…"
"You have players coming to the peak of their physical, mental and tactical awareness They’re so aware of what’s going on and they smell blood. You can see the confidence is dripping from them."
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