The best chances came in the first half when new signing Vincent Escude-Candau fired over after Derek O’Brien’s left-wing cross had been parried by the goalkeeper.
As half-time approached, Vinny Sullivan was denied by keeper Michael Schlingerman, while Escude-Candau then had a shot cleared off the line by Paul Danaher.
Athlone attacked on the break and might have taken a shock lead on 26 minutes but Mark McNulty made a fine one-handed save to deny Robbie Murray in a one-on-one situation.
The second half continued with City doing most of the attacking and Athlone defending in depth.
After 54 minutes Colm Smith had the first chance for Athlone but in spite of dominating possession throughout Cork were unable to make the breakthrough. Cork’s frustrating night was summed up just after the hour mark when Graham Cummins was booked for diving inside the penalty area.
However, City never looked like getting the better of an inspired home defence well marshalled by former Limerick pair Danaher and Tommy Barrett.
ATHLONE: Schlingerman, Woods, Scullion, Barrett, Danaher, Relihan, Daly, Stack, King (Gill h/t), Murray, Smith (Coffey 78m).
CORK: McNulty, D Murphy, O’Halloran, Morrissey, O’Neill, Cummins, Sullivan (Kiely 68m), O’Brien (J Murphy 73), Spillane, Horgan, Escude-Candau.
Referee: R Rogers (Dublin).