Twenty minutes with Greg Abbott is like two hours with most other people. The words, stories and views fly from the former Carlisle manager as rapidly they always did, as though he is in a race to get them all out.

The difference, if there is one, is that the 54-year-old has a couple more reasons to be upbeat. One is that he has finally paid a visit to Brunton Park, for the first time since his five-year reign ended in 2013. The other, more significantly, is that he is recovering positively from prostate cancer, having been diagnosed with the illness in April.

Abbott speaks freely about both meaningful times in his life. His journey with the Blues was always emotional and, as he returned for Saturday's pre-season friendly as Bradford's assistant coach, he was followed by goodwill, as old friends, colleagues and fans asked about his health.

Was it strange, to be part of the away contingent? "It wasn't, to be fair, because I went in the home dressing room, home dugout, basically everywhere I used to go. In the boardroom they saved me a little meat pie, like they always used to. I thought I was manager of both teams for the day!

"Seriously, it was a bit odd, a bit strange, but that's fine. I don't think I took a smile off my face all day. I sat with John [Sheridan] in his office for a crack. John's a top guy, a proper football person - we go back to when he was at Leeds and I was at Bradford, kicking lumps out of each other. I put some names on the board who I said he should be signing. He started laughing, and said he couldn't afford them. I said, 'Some things never change...'"

The fact he was fighting fit after what sounds like a gruelling illness meant his boots moved lightly across the old turf. Abbott is happy to talk openly about his cancer both to help raise awareness of the disease, and also because talking is simply the Abbott way.

He initially went to the doctor complaining of headaches and tiredness, presuming it was the rigours of his then job as Bradford's head of recruitment. "The PSA [Prostate Specific Antegen] reading was high, but I still didn't really bother then. It was only when they said, 'you've got prostate cancer'.

"It was that word. When I told my daughter, she just broke down, then there was Sally [my partner], my Mum and Dad...I thought, wow, this is going to be tough on them. That word - it frightens the life out of everybody."

Abbott, who embodied fighting spirit as a player and manager, says concern for his family's well-being hardened his resolve. "I just knew I had to get right, for the people around me." Treatment included surgery which would normally have taken two hours, but for Abbott lasted six-and-a-half, because of complications.

"I had the choice of radiotherapy, or this robotic surgery, and I chose the [latter]. It wasn't very nice. The second night after the operation, when the anaesthetic was wearing off, I don't think I've been in as much pain in all my life. It was horrendous, and I couldn't find the emergency switch to get the nurse. A guy opposite looked out for me and said, 'He is in pain'. The nurse came, put me straight on Tramadol, I went up to the moon and back and nodded off nicely."

Abbott laughs at my flippant suggestion that such a drug might have come in handy during his more stressful times at United. "Oh, too right. Every manager should be blessed with a packet of 12."

Because of the effect on his bladder, Abbott had to wear a catheter for nine weeks. There were more infections to cope with but throughout all these unpleasant experiences he was encouraged by doctors that he would make a good recovery.

"That made it slightly easier for me. I knew I had a great chance of getting through it, but in the hospital there were some people telling me they weren't gonna get better, that it was only a matter of time...

"That really affected me. You just thank your lucky stars. It was 11 weeks out of my life I wouldn't want back, but for all that pain I'm still here and can get on with life."

Abbott has since recovered well; he goes back into hospital for checks tomorrow and, provided the results are clear, will have six free months before the next round. He is also planning a charity walk, along with Bradford goalkeeping coach Steve Banks, having already helped raise funds for Prostate Cancer UK over the summer. Three of his former Leeds academy proteges, James Milner, Fabian Delph and Danny Rose, offered signed shirts.

"[Campaigning] for prostate cancer in football is massive now, with all the great work Jeff Stelling has done, and Simon Grayson being a patron, but I hadn't really given it a second thought until this, which I'm slightly embarrassed about. Now, I'm telling people around our age, over 40, just take half-an-hour out of your year to get tested. If it's there, get it done early and you've got a better chance."

These 11 weeks have also prompted certain reflections. "All I've ever really thought about is football, sometimes before my family and health," he says. "It's crazy how the game grabs hold of you and takes over your life. What the summer has taught me is there's a bit more to life than a result and people falling out on a football pitch.

"I've no doubt I'll end up falling out with people again, but maybe this has given me a big eye-opener to everything that's important. I've got two grandkids who I adore, a family who were there at every corner of my illness. I also owe football a lot. The game of football, football people from all over the country, really looked after me."

Abbott firmly includes Carlisle in that sentiment, both for recent good wishes and the managerial career he was able to build here. His reign saw some entertaining and exhausting campaigns in League One, plus two Wembley finals in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy - one of which United won in 2011 - before it tailed off.

Abbott reels off some of the best players he worked with - "Ben Marshall, Adam Clayton, Richard Keogh, Ian Harte, Gary Madine, James Chester..." and adds: "When you look at some of the ones we got in, and the period we had, without looking in too much danger of getting all sits well with me as a relative success.

"The problem was, because of the locality, recycling the types of players I've mentioned was never going to happen year after year. My biggest disappointment was the day we played Bradford [in August 2014] and got beat 4-0. I looked at their side, and at could have had Pep Guardiola in charge of Carlisle and he wouldn't have won that game. We had a few really young players, and Bradford were strong.

"To get beat 4-0 at a place that's your spiritual home as a player, with such a tame team and tame performance - I almost said to the chairman then it was the right time [to go]."

Abbott battled on another few weeks, eventually leaving after a last-minute defeat to Port Vale. He praises the "gentlemanly" conduct of chairman Andrew Jenkins at this time, but it would be harsh to judge his tenure only by its ending. From happier years, he cites a 1-0 win at Sheffield Wednesday - "diamond formation, Paul Thirlwell magnificent as captain, away end full to the brim of Carlisle fans" - as a highlight. Beating a Southampton side full of future Premier League stars at Brunton Park, another.

"The club's quite a way off that at the minute. That's just being honest. We had some bad times, don't get me wrong; times when I made some mistakes, even if some mistakes are forced on you because of the circumstances surrounding the club. But when you look back, actually, it wasn't that bad. I know there have been a lot of things written and said, but nobody's gonna change my mind on that."

If there are any lasting scars, they show when Abbott dwells on some of the scathing flak he says he received. "Criticism is acceptable, abuse is intolerable," he says. "There are some good human beings in football and I'd appeal to anyone, before you criticise, just think a little bit about what you're actually doing and how you're doing it.

"We should never forget there's always a person on the receiving end. In the good times at Carlisle I might get 10 letters in a week, and if nine were good and one was bad, that one would be the one that affected me. 'Why are they saying that, why are they calling me...?' But it's the industry, isn't it?"

In his latest job at Valley Parade, Abbott is lending experienced support to rookie manager Michael Collins. Another pre-season is almost done and as Bradford prepare for Shrewsbury on Saturday, the blood is clearly pumping again. "I've hated the last five or six weeks, all the running and drills, but this is for real now," he says. "On Saturday [against Carlisle] we were a bit flat at times, but this week in training we've shown more energy, because everybody's looking forward to the real thing."

If, given what he has faced since April, he is looking forward to 2018/19 with even more anticipation than usual, that would be understandable. "The doctors were wonderful, I feel so good, I just want to get involved," he says. "And you're certainly not gonna stop me smiling, that's for sure."