OLD Malton St Mary's player-boss boss Darren Dunning reckons they could hardly have picked a better game with which to kick off their York Minster Engineering League title defence - against the side they pipped to the title in April.

The champions are seeking a third title in four years and Dunning, the former Blackburn Rovers and York City midfielder, is relishing the opportunity to open up the premier division season this Saturday against last term's runners-up, Riccall.

"It's a really good game for us as they will be up there competing again this season," he said. "They've signed one or two players so they'll be looking to go one better this year.

"The lads are fit and in good spirits. It will be a good match. We had some good games against them last year and I have no doubt it will be similar this time around."

Aware of the target on their backs, Dunning reckons usual suspects Huntington, Dunnington and Riccall will be eager to scupper Malton's bid for successive titles.

"It's obviously going to be tough, as we're the team to beat and everyone ups their game against you."

Old Malton also captured the elusive North Riding FA Saturday County Cup last year, an achievement Dunning was especially proud of.

He added: "It was a brilliant experience for everyone involved at Old Malton because it was a cup we had never won and to do it for the first time was extra special."

Meanwhile, the first week of the Richard Flaherty Trophy, a pre-season competition for Ryedale teams, saw a deluge of goals and attacking play.

In the opening fixtures, a confident Union Rovers overcame a young Malton & Norton reserves side to win 3-1, while an end-to-end game eventually saw Slingsby have a rare victory in this tournament when they got the better of Ryedale 3-2.

Then on Thursday, a revitalised Kirkdale side led Sinnington 4-1 at one point but were thankful for the final whistle after the Sinners scored a couple of late goals to make it 4-3.

Last year's winners Old Malton, meanwhile, started brightly against Gillamoor and quickly raced into a two-goal lead before missing a number of chances and seeing their lead cut before half-time.

The second half saw more of the same and it looked a formality when they led 4-1 with 15 minutes to go, but, as in the other game, two quick goals at the other end made for a nail-biting finish.

This week, Old Malton were taking on Malton & Norton reserves and Kirkdale were playing Ryedale, while Union Rovers take on Gillamoor and Slingsby host Sinnington.

l THE annual Jonathan Ward Memorial five-a-side football competition organised by Heslerton FC is to take place on Sunday (August 17).

The tournament at last count had 14 teams so needed two more to get 16 and four groups of four. Anyone interested in entering should contact club chairman Dean Storry on 07919 895972.

The entry fee is £25 per team with the tournament starting at 10am at Heslerton's ground.

There will also be a barbecue and a bar plus a raffle, with all proceeds going towards the Jonathan Ward Memorial Trust Fund.