POOL: CRAIG LYUS has a one-to-one with Swindon's terminally ill pool superstar Leo The Hat' McMackin.

I arrive at Leo The Hat' McMackin's house to find him on his sickbed, covered in tubes and connected to a machine to help him breathe.

In his own words he's a goner'.

Terminally ill with asbestosis contracted during his days of manual labour in the factories of London nearly 40 years ago.

The trademark trilby that provides his nickname rests poignantly on top of a monitor on the other side of the room.

It's a sad sight but sympathy is not what he's after.

Money remains his motivation. It always has been.

The pool ace has sniffed out punters ripe for hustling in pubs and clubs all over the south and beyond for the past three decades.

But his latest cash-making scheme is on a whole new scale and is an utterly selfless act.

Leo's last wish is to raise £5million in donations for children's cancer charities.

He said: "There are five million pool players in this country that's a £1 donation from each of them that doesn't seem a lot to ask.

"It's the one thing I really want to do now.

"I've had a good long life. I'm 66, I can't complain. I'm a spiritual person and I'm not afraid of death.

"But I feel passionately about those young kiddies who don't get that chance.

"It's a disease that can affect anyone at any time.

"I want to be able to make a difference to them.

"If I help to raise £20,000 that would only be a drop in the ocean but the charities could really do something with £5million."

From anyone else it would seem like pie in the sky, but there is already a growing level of support in the pool world from fellow players and fans of the great man.

There are scores of messages from well-wishers on the UK 8-ball community forum.

One post summing up the feeling reads: Leo you keep battling mate because it's not just pool that needs gents like you it's life generally and how much better would the world be if it was full of Leos?' It's a much-loved reputation that Leo has built up since arriving from his native County Donegal at the age of 17.

After a spell in Birmingham the charismatic Irishman moved to London where he worked as a labourer and suffered the asbestos poisoning that would leave him needing a life-saving lung operation years later.

He relocated to Swindon in the early 60s, eventually settling in Park North where he still lives today with wife Margaret.

It was then that the pool bug took its grip.

He said: "I used to play quite a bit of football in the early days and then snooker.

"My strength was as a close potter and then I discovered pool which suited my game because all the pots were close."

His career really took off in 1981.

"I won seven tournaments in a row," he said. "So I realised I had something.

"Then I entered a big national tournament with over 5,000 players and I won the South of England section.

"After that I went to America for the finals and I won it so when I came back to England I decided to start playing professionally."

The Hat's US win earned him a place with the English Pool Association before moving on to the breakaway Professional Pool Players Organisation.

He has been ranked as high as fifth but modestly insists he was never one of the top tournament players.

"I was never at that level," said Leo, who was runner-up in the National Trickshot Championship less than six months ago.

"I could beat anyone on my day but the top guys were so consistent I have always been a money player.

"A bit like the Hustler and the Color of Money going into pubs and giving the punters a four-ball start.

"I always won more than I lost and came away with a profit at the end of the night doing something that I love doing."

And he can still spot a mug ripe for a few quid.

On my way out of the door he offers to sell me one of a batch of snooker cues he's got in storage.

"Cue, extension and case all yours for £40."

I'll get back to you on that one Leo.

  • ANYONE willing to help or offer suggestions for Leo's charity scheme can contact his son John on 07764 609605.