Ten-man Waterford FC looked set to win comfortably, only to leave Galway hanging on for a draw, after an inspired substitution by John Caulfield helped United to a point in front of 2,500 fans at Eamonn Deacy Park.
The veteran Stephen Walsh, who has played almost his entire career for United at the back, was sent on up front and scored a beautiful equaliser to supplement Jordan Adeyemo's header in a game of two halves.
Waterford had looked in cruise control at the break thanks to goals from Junior Quitirna and skipper Eddie Nolan, but they know they have a battle to justify favouritism to win the title after an absorbing encounter on a cold night Corribside.
Romeo Akachunkwu was promoted to the Blues bench, quite an achievement for a kid yet to sit his Junior Cert.
The first half was a scrappy affair with the home side struggling to get any rhythm going and failing to create a single chance.
Waterford dictated the tempo of the game and, with Anthony Wordsworth and Shane Griffin instrumental in the middle, they probed for an early goal.It might have arrived on six minutes but on-loan Louis Britton, who scored in both of Blues' games in the league so far, dragged his shot wide.
The visitors went ahead on 15 minutes.
The lively Richard Taylor crossed and, Alex Murphy having headed to the edge of the box, Quitirna fired home.
Wordsworth picked up a yellow on 28 minutes that would have had him concerned about any 50-50 challenges but ten minutes later it was 2-0.
Conor Kearns had initially punched away but the ball fell to Phoenix Patterson and, having aimed the ball towards a crowded box, skipper Nolan was on hand to tap in and leave United with a mountain to climb.
Manu Dimas was penalised three times for fouls but he nearly put Adeyemo in, Brian Murphy reading the danger and clearing.
Dimas did superbly for Adeyemo's goal on 48 minutes. The front pair linked up brilliantly, the Spaniard sent in a beautiful cross and ex-Drogheda player Adeyemo headed beyond Murphy into the corner.
There was a big decision shortly afterwards for referee Alan Pathell, who decided not to give Wordsworth a second yellow after he upended Mikey Rowe, with Blues rattled.Rowe will wonder how he didn't equalise on the hour mark after excellent play by the impressive Alex Murphy and Walsh but Terryland was rocking when the equaliser went in with 15 minutes to go.
Hurley dinked the ball through for Walsh who, rolling back the years, confidently slotted home.
And Walsh harried like a ravenous dog to keep the ball in play with four minutes left, only to appear to be struck on the face by Taylor, who was promptly sent off.
David Hurley nearly won it at the death, Murphy diving right to prevent scenes of delirium in Terryland.
Walsh left the pitch to greet his young son and daughter, then would invite them onto a field he knows so well, Caulfield giving him a hug for good measure.
Galway United: Kearns; O'Keeffe, Portillo, Brouder, Murphy; McCormack, Hurley; Dimas (Walsh 69); McCarthy (Lyons 90), Adeyemo (Doherty 90), Rowe.
Waterford: Murphy; Power, Nolan, Taylor, Griffin; En-Neyah (Milambo 87), Joshua (Idowu 79), Wordsworth; Quitirna (O'Keeffe 79), Britton (Kavanagh 79), Patterson.
Referee: Alan Patchell (Dublin).
Elsewhere Cobh Ramblers and Treaty United played out a scoreless draw.
There was hardly a chance of note in a scrappy, very tight opening 45 minutes as the hosts frustrated Treaty.
Lee Devitt flashed an effort wide for the visitors but it was Cobh who almost snatched it late on when John Kavanagh drew a fine save from Jack Brady with a clean strike.
Wexford made it two wins out of three as they sank Athlone Town at Ferrycarrig Park.
They deservedly took the lead in the 38th minute when Harry Groome finished off a good move. Four minutes later Athlone's evening got even worse when Cian Kely was sent off for a second yellow card.
Wexford doubled their lead on 55 minutes through Aaron Dobbs, and though they continued to make chances, Glen McAuley gave Athlone hope 13 minutes from time with a clinical finish.
The home side held out however to go second in the table behind Waterford.