Francis McGee turned on the magic to steer Longford to a slender victory at Ballymahon yesterday.
The Division 4 champions were slow to find momentum and allowed the students to dictate the entire first-half exchanges.
Athlone eased into a two-point lead midway through the opening half as full-forward Frank Burke found the net from point-blank range.
Corner-forward McGee and Brian Kavanagh responded to keep Longford afloat, but a second Anton Sullivan point in the final phase gave Athlone IT a slim advantage at the break.
Longford's fortunes improved significantly with the introduction of JJ Mathews and James McGivney and when McGee landed three fabulous points in the game's final third, the victory was theirs.
Scorers -- Longford: F McGee 0-5, S McCormack 0-4 (3f), B Kavanagh 0-2, S Mullingan, JJ Matthews 0-1 each. Athlone IT: A Sullivan 0-5 (4f), F Burke 1-0, E Clarke 0-2f, P Bannon, A Caul 0-1 each.
Longford -- J McKenna; P Foy, F Battrim, D Reilly; C Smyth, S Mulligan, P Brady; J Keegan, J O'Shea; D Barden, M Quinn, D McElligott; F McGee, B Kavanagh, S McCormack. Subs: K Diffley for J O'Shea (10), JJ Matthews for D McElligott (h-t), E Williams for P Brady (52), J McGivney for J Keegan (52)
Athlone IT: G Connaughton; R Dunne, C Duignan, D Maleady; A Rowan, M McCallon, L Murphy; D Cash, P Bannon; E Clarke, G Egan, P Masterson; A Caul, F Burke, A Sullivan. Subs: O Sheridan for E Clarke (h-t), T Rahill for R Dunne (55), P McGee for A Rowan (58), D McGovern for A Caul (65).
Ref -- F Smyth (Offaly)